Dr Anselmo Set Cabigan, PhD
The last time Ka Abe asked me to write something for the second volume of Living With Nature, I wrote about catching quail with bare hands and shrimp with a noose of hair from a horse’s tail. The joys of childhood in the hinterland ring like legend for the metropolitan youth of today. This time, I choose a timely subject, rice – the staple: in the time of hunger between harvest seasons.
Before the advent of high yielding varieties (HYV) of rice and the requisite fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation support systems, there was only one cropping season, even in lowland irrigated ricefields. Seedbeds were prepared immediately after the early rains in May for transplanting on the first week of June. The paddies were plowed twice and harrowed thrice before transplanting the month-old seedlings. Father would leave three small paddies around the seedbed. These were prepared rather hurriedly after the seedlings have been uprooted. There was no transplanting on these paddies because all the seedlings would have been used up on the main field. These were seeded directly instead.
The variety used was called Sinadyaya (meaning by intent.) The variety was intentionally different from the main crop because it played a crucial role in the survival of the rice farmer. The main crop would ripen from October to November, a long wait indeed for a farmer whose family supply of rice ran out two months after planting the main crop.
The Sinadyaya was not a handsome crop. It was rather short, spindly with a tendency to crawl on the ground. The least wind brought it down, lifting only one or two leaves and the short sparsely – grained panicle just above the water line. Its grain was coarse, with dark red pericarp, practically tasteless and hard-textured when cooked. But it had its merits. In the stormy, rainy, cloudy season of May to August, it brought a crop of grain ripening even in the rain. August was kawitíng-palakól season (literally, reaching with the edge of the axe) when hunger stalked the rice farmer’s family before the next harvest season. And it was in August when the ungainly Sinadyaya brought its measly harvest of coarse, tasteless grain.
There was no problem harvesting in the rain. The panicles could be threshed in the shed. The problem was drying the grain for milling. It was impossible to dry in the sun. The sun seldom came out between the August rains. Mother roasted the fresh grain on a large talyasì (wok) over a low smoldering fire, stirring the grain with a long-handled wooden ladle. We, children, gathered around the fire waiting for popped grains that sometimes jumped out to the ground. Eventually the grain was half-cooked and dry. It was called tanák (probably the closest term for parboiled rice).
The tanák was still hot when transferred to a wooden mortar for pounding. There was very little rice bran. Parboiling had made the pericarp tough and the endosperm elastic. Pounded rice was almost whole grain, with the bran intact. This was called pinawà (brown rice). The partly roasted aroma was good, but above all the quick product of industry was on the dining table in no time. Hunger stopped stalking.
Long before the merits of brown rice was in advertisement, it was an item of survival in the farmer’s diet. Brown rice took twice as much water to cook. Soft well-milled rice varieties that required 1:1 rice:water ratio by volume would take 1:2 rice:water ratio to bring the brown rice to acceptable cooked texture. The hard and coarse Sinadyaya took almost three parts water to one part rice. The gain in volume was further improved by a decrease in intake. One took about half as much pinawà as polished rice. It was a bit tough and took much longer to chew (also much longer to digest). Consequently, one ate less rice and more of the green vegetables that grew on the bench terraces, clung on the fence, and even clambered onto the roof.
When the rice shortage became a current issue, my family switched to brown rice. No, we did not get the ungainly Sinadyaya type. We bought the highest quality aromatic brown rice in the market. The term did not fit the product – it was not brown. Vacuum-packed and pre-cleaned, it looked almost white with colorless pericarp. It cost as much as its well-milled counterpart of the same variety. (As a matter of fact, it should cost less because the milling recovery was 20% higher in brown rice). True enough, it took twice as much water to cook, required more chewing time to eat, but tasted good. It also cut my family rice consumption to half.
Living With Nature includes not only reminiscing the romantic past when oldtimers like us lived in a more “naturalistic” environment. Bringing up the lessons learned a long time ago to the present is more useful. Switching to brown rice not only makes more milled grain available, it also reduces consumption. In simple arithmetic, increased production [milling recovery and cooking volume] and reduced consumption [less rice intake per meal] means a higher ending rice stock balance. It may be too much to suggest paddy processing by tanák, but certainly choosing pinawà sounds more like a health option than a sacrifice.~
Living with Nature in Our Times, AVR