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The History of Rice Cultivation in Europe


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Choi, June Young
Term Paper, AP European History Class, July 2008



Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Properties of Rice
III. Introduction of Rice into Europe
IV. Rice in Europe
IV.1 Spain
IV.2 Italy
V. European Rice Dishes
VI. Conclusion
Bibliography



I. Introduction
            In Asian nations, people's lives revolved around the production of rice. Rice originated from Asia, and that made rice more popular among Asian nations. Rice then spread through Europe, and later on into the American continent. Still today, there exist many aspects of European culture that have their basis upon the cultivation of rice. Such examples would be the numerous rice dishes that please our appetite.
            With the introduction of rice into Europe, people's lives changed. Rice production required much more labor than cultivating wheat, and that promoted changes of population within areas of rice cultivation such as northern Italy. In its early years of cultivation, rice was considered as exotic and rare food, only accessible to the rich. This attitude towards rice changed as its cultivation became a natural part of European life, and rice dishes soon took the place of bread, as the staple food. In regions where rice cultivation was popular, man did not live on bread alone, but also rice too.

II. Properties of Rice
            Rice is a cereal which forms an important part of diet of many people worldwide. The plant is native to tropical and subtropical southern Asia and southeastern Africa. Rice is grown as a monocarpic annual plant, although in tropical areas it can survive as a perennial and can produce a ratoon crop and survive for up to 20 years.
            Rice is a staple for a large part of the world's population, especially in tropical Latin America, some parts of Europe, and East, South and Southeast Asia, making it the second-most consumed cereal grain, next to wheat. Rice provides more than one fifth of the calories consumed worldwide by humans. In early 2008, some governments and retailers began rationing supplies of the grain due to fears of a global rice shortage.
            Rice cultivation is well-suited to countries and regions with low labor costs and high rainfall, as it is very labor-intensive to cultivate and requires plenty of water for cultivation. This property of rice made its growth impossible in northern and central parts of Europe, where sunlight was lacking. On the other hand, mechanized cultivation is extremely oil-intensive, more than other food products with the exception of beef and dairy products. Rice can be grown practically anywhere, even on a steep hill or mountain. Although its species are native to South Asia and certain parts of Africa, centuries of trade and exportation have made it commonplace in many cultures including Europe.
            The traditional method for cultivating rice is flooding the fields with or after setting the young seedlings. This simple method requires sound planning and servicing of the water damming and channeling, but reduces the growth of less robust weed and pest plants that have no submerged growth state, and deters vermin. While with rice growing and cultivation the flooding is not mandatory, all other methods of irrigation require higher effort in weed and pest control during growth periods and a different approach for fertilizing the soil.

III. Introduction of Rice into Europe
            The period of introduction of rice is not so certain. Some scholars say that it was in the 8th century, while others say that it not until late 10th century that rice first came to Europe. By stating "introduced", what it means is that it was used for the purpose of food consumption. Rice was known to European people as early as in the Roman period, when rice was used as a medicinal herb.
            The introduction of rice into this part of the Mediterranean was the result of the merchant vessels that set sail from these southern waters. It is at heart a species of the grass family, and native to the sub-tropical climate of southern and Southeast Asia and Africa, grown in fields of shallow water known as paddies. With the property of rice to need abundant water and sun for growth, the plant settled itself in parts of Northern Italy and Spain. In Northern Italy, the Po River valley provided the irrigation needed, and in case of Spain, the Arabs, though Spanish climate was unsuitable for cultivation of rice, introduced rice cultivation in the process of bringing Arabic tradition into Spain. The introduction of rice into the Italian diet came as ships returned from trading in these areas, probably around the time of the 15th century, and was quickly adopted and adapted in terms of growing methods.

IV. Rice cultication in Europe

IV.1 Spain
            The Arabs had established riziculture very early on in Spain and were exporting it from Sicily by the tenth century. The claim that the Byzantines were growing rice before the arrival of the Arabs is based upon the statement of historian Joan Corominas who notes that rice was grown in the southeast of the Iberian peninsula in the seventh century when the area was under Byzantine rule. Unfortunately, he does not provide any sources for the claim. Traders could find rice in Levantine ports. In fourteenth century, Majorcan rice was sold at fairs in Champagne.

IV.2 Italy
            In Venice, a deliberation of the Council of Ten in July 7, 1533, exempts rice from an excise tax because it takes the place of vegetables. The Provincial writer Quiqueran de Beaujeu wrote in 1551 of riceculture in Provence. One can't help but notice that rice was being eaten in Europe before the development of riziculture on the Lombardian plains. The fourteenth-century cookery manuscript known as the Libro per cuoco by an anonymous Venetian gives a recipe, rixo in bona manera - that is, a kind of porridge of rice cooked in almond milk with sugar. In Italy, a person who laughed easily was said to have eaten rice soup, a play on words : che aveva mangiato la minestra di riso (he had eaten laughter/rice soup).
            Rice is synonymous with Italian cookery in the form of risotto, which is produced from the stubby, short-grain varieties. Risotto shares many similarities with the Spanish dish of paella, which claims Valencia as its standard bearer. This common bond is indicative of both the trading links between the two sets of seafaring peoples and the conquests and counter-conquests of the various kingdoms that fought for power in the region during the course of the 15th and 16th century.
            While other areas of the Italy have developed rice growing, such as Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, the Po valley remains the spiritual and most fertile area of cultivation. And not surprisingly it is the area where rice consumption is at its highest.
            The early rice dishes, which were baked or fried, did not have an influence on other neighboring regions until the Spanish Aragonesi took them to Puglia and Campania in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Botanical gardens experimented and soon the monasteries discovered the benefits of this economical crop. By the fifteenth century we find the Benedictine monks at Montecassino carefully selecting the best of the available seeds and starting extensive cultivation. In the north, soon to become the center of Italian rice cultivation, we can find probably the first mention of rice in the early fourteenth century in the household accounts of Torino's Duke of Savoia, and it is recorded in 1475 that Milan's ruling Sforza family sent twelve sacks of seeds to the Duke of Ferrara.
            Cultivating rice was very labor intensive in the spring when the land had to be dug over and fertilized after the hard northern winter. The seeds had to be soaked in water before planting so that they started to germinate before being sown and the rice fields had to be flooded with water from the canals so that the seedlings would be protected from the sharp drop in temperature during the night. However, the real back-breaking work was the weeding. In May the rice fields had to be weeded to prevent the young rice from being choked by other vegetation. Hundreds of women known as le mondine, or weeders, arrived from all parts of Italy to perform the delicate task of rooting out the weeds while leaving the young rice in place.
            It was a hard life for le mondine, living together in dormitories housing hundreds of women far from their homes. They had to work bent double, up to their knees in water under a blazing sun. They were bitten by mosquitoes and the water teemed with wildlife. They worked in rows, moving backwards, controlled by an overseer who sat high on a chair like a tennis umpire. When the women approached the end of a field the overseer called out for the central girls to move out in order to leave a space for the frogs (which had been driven back as they progressed down the field) to escape. It is said that the water seemed to boil as all the wildlife made a mass exit. As the women weeded they sang. One of the songs, Ciao Bella, was adopted by the Italian Communist Party to express the social injustice of the system.
            Le mondine and their songs have disappeared and modern machinery makes rice cultivation much easier.

V European Rice Dishes
            Famous European rice dishes include Spanish Paella and Italian Risotto, as well as Rice Pudding / Milk Rice, popular in France, Bavaria and England. They are prepared in a wide range of varieties. Rice dishes are also popular on the Balkans peninsula.

VI. Conclusion
            In Asian nations, people¡¯s lives revolved around the production of rice. Rice originated from Asia, and that made rice more popular among Asian nations. Rice then spread through Europe, and later on into the American continent. Still today, there exist many aspects of European culture that have their basis upon the cultivation of rice. Such examples would be the numerous rice dishes that please our appetite.
            With the introduction of rice into Europe, people¡¯s lives changed. Rice production required much more labor than cultivating wheat, and that promoted changes of population within areas of rice cultivation such as northern Italy. In its early years of cultivation, rice was considered as exotic and rare food, only accessible to the rich. This attitude towards rice changed as its cultivation became a natural part of European life, and rice dishes soon took the place of bread, as the staple food. In regions where rice cultivation was popular, man did not live on bread alone, but also rice too.
            Until now, we have looked as the history of rice upon the European continent. Rice from as early as 8th century acted as a staple food crop in some parts of Spain and 15th century in Northern Italy. The properties of rice, had to do a lot with cultivating rice. Rice was intensive in its need of water, sunlight, and labor, which made its cultivation possible only in few areas of Europe. Thus, in countries like England, rice culture did not develop (Personally, I don¡¯t even want to imagine what the English might have done to rice if it was able to be cultivated).
            Cultivation of rice brought about many changes in the society. The most prominent would be the wonderful rice recopies, such as risotto and paella. Other than that, stories like le modine also developed, illustrating the labor-oriented nature of rice cultivation. It is also worthy to note that rice, when compared to wheat, yielded a higher amount of crop per unit area, and thus decreasing hunger in its cultivated areas. In modern European rice fields, work is mainly done with machines, but we should not forget the fact that it was the sweaty labor of people like le modine that brought us the pleasure of European rice dishes.


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in July 2008.
1.      Italian Rice, from : The Press, http://www.tespeedpress.com/page.php3?ftr=100
2.      History of Rice, from : Italiana, http://www.italian.co.uk/HistoryOfRice.html
3.      A Rice History, from : Clifford AWright.com, http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/foodentries/display.php/id/12/
4.      Article : Rice, from: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice
5.      Risotto with Chicken, from : epicurean.com, http://recipes.epicurea.com/recipe/1321/risotto-with-chicken.html
6.      Paella, from : Spanish Recipes, http://www.lingolex.com/spanishfood/paella.html




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