My problem is whether they could grow crops to produce it. If not, what could be a substitute for a population, who live on wetlands in central European-like climate during early colonization era (17th century), so importing rice isn't an available option? What could they eat in general?

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    $\begingroup$ (1) What is "early colonization era"? (2) Humans practice an art called trade. We don't have to grow bananas in Romania to have bananas to eat. In Europe, people developed extensive trade networks back in the Stone Age. There are no wetlands in Central Europe so immensely large that ordinary trade (with oxcarts, mules, whatever) cannot easily bring in cheap flour to make bread. In fact, I don't know of any wetlands anywhere in the world so huge that the population could not easily trade their fish and animal skins and whatever they make for wheat. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome Mushroom. Could you edit to clarify a bit, do you mean the migrations into Europe 40-50 thousand years ago or are you referring to H. Heidelbergensis, which according to Wikipedia migrated circa 500 thousand years ago - both of which would likely have been before agriculture (and before bread too perhaps). Are you looking for food in general or just something with starch? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Mushroom, we would need some more specific dates and regions to get an answer. Good question in general though z $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ rice is itself from water, including from temperate climates like what is now north America $\endgroup$
    – Mike M
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ There's a lot of stuff you can bake bread or bread-like food from, not just wheat, and rice grows in unexpected places like Hungary and Switzerland. $\endgroup$
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 15:13

4 Answers 4


What can we make flour out of?

Although most flour is made from wheat, it can also be made from other starchy plant foods. These include barley, buckwheat, corn, lima beans, oats, peanuts, potatoes, soybeans, rice, and rye. (Source)

So, we need starchy foods. Below is a partial list of foods that, when dried out, could be ground and sifted to make flour. [1], [2]

  • Beans/Legumes (kidney, navy, pinto, black, cannellini, lima)
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Grains (Barley, Oats, Rye, Wheat, etc.)
  • Lentils
  • Parsnips
  • Peanuts
  • Peas (Green, Chick)
  • Potatoes (White, Sweet)
  • Soybeans
  • Squash (Acorn, Butternut)
  • Taro
  • Turnips
  • Yams

But what's really important is what we mean by "wetland"

The simple definition of "wetland" is "land or areas (such as marshes or swamps) that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture." But that's really two-dimensional. So let's try a more comprehensive definition.

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. Water saturation (hydrology) largely determines how the soil develops and the types of plant and animal communities living in and on the soil. Wetlands may support both aquatic and terrestrial species. The prolonged presence of water creates conditions that favor the growth of specially adapted plants (hydrophytes) and promote the development of characteristic wetland (hydric) soils. (Source)

The word of the day here is hydrophyte, "a plant that grows either partly or totally submerged in water." So, all we need is a starchy vegetable that's a hydrophyte. From here we learn of some cool options:

Starchy Hydrophytes

  • Cattail
  • Chinese Water Chestnut
  • Wild Rice

Of these, the Cattail and Chinese Water Chestnut are specifically identified as starchy staples, making them ideal candidates for making bread in a wetland.

However, your options are wider than that

Remember that more complex definition of a wetland: "Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season." What's important here is that a wetland isn't simply underwater or swampy-soggy-muddy. A real wetland identified over a large area will include spaces of reasonably dry dirt for periods of time that could allow crops. My point is, you can realistically use pretty much any food from that first list and clear the suspension-of-disbelief hurdle with space to spare.

But if you really want to make bread in a swamp, Cattails and Chinese Water Chestnut.

But, if you're looking for some serious cool factor...

Then let me suggest something a bit closer to peanuts but still a hydrophyte: the European Water Chestnut.

This variety is called “trapa natans” by botanists, so you can see right away by the very different scientific name that it’s a very different creature from the “Chinese” Water Chestnuts. For starters, it actually is a nut [the Chinese Water Chestnut is a tuber]. These Water Chestnuts have been around for a long time in Europe. They were found in those now-legendary Swiss neolithic dwellings whose garbage piles were the object of much funding and study, where peas were also found. The variety has been in Europe since at least the Ice Ages. (Source)

Boom, baby...



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Rice grows in wetlands. Rice has existed in Europe since the Roman times. It came to Spain in the 10th century. It is believable there was rice in central Europe in the 17th century. There is no need to import.

It can be made into a type of non chewy bread. But it is easier just to boil the rice. Historically baking things is a luxury and boiling is easier.


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There are ducks on your rice paddies. They eat the little creatures that live in the water. Then you eat the ducks. Yum yum.


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Make friends with the ducks by providing dry nesting boxes. They will lay their eggs in the boxes and you can eat the eggs when they are not looking.

Cormorant Fishing

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Get yourself a big cormorant and a small cormorant. Put a hoop around the birds neck so it cannot swallow the fish and train it to come back to you. Every dozen fish it catches it gets to eat one.

Non Cormorant Fishing

As above but without the cormorants.

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    $\begingroup$ Also just normal farmed fish and eels, both traditionally grown in rice patties or wetlands in general. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 20:44

It is possible for 17th century level Europeans to farm grain in swamps and marshes. Even in large shallow lakes.

Check out this map of the Netherlands: https://www.canonvannederland.nl/image/2017/7/1/kaart021b_landaanwinning.jpg%28mediaclass-fancybox-big-img.5a17fc1f47109709397ae88813c748b421ef8e41%29.jpg

It shows during what time land was 'reclaimed' from the Sea or inland lakes. Note that this map doesn't show all polders: some were reclaimed before 1300, and a large fraction of Dutch polders are former Peat bogs, reclaimed after the practice of digging up Peat transformed them into wetlands and lakes. Basically all provinces bordering the North Sea are made up mostly of reclaimed land.

What you need is one (or some) of these:


Surround 5-10km2 of wetland in two rings of Dykes a few metres apart, 5-10m high, digging the sticky heavy mud and clay by hand and transporting it using horse or ox-drawn carts over longer distances. Connect to a local river. Build a windmill to pump the water out of the wetland, and into the man-made canal in between the dykes.

Dig trenches at intervals of a few hundred meters apart. These will collect rainwater and transport it to the windmill.

Wait for the water to be pumped out and the soil to dry out. Plant crops on the very fertile peat-and-clay soil left behind.

If there's a town nearby, they'll offer good money for the peat (for use as a primitive cooking and industrial fuel), so your locals may want to sell off some of the soil layer (wetlands tend to have very deep soil). However, if your locals dig out too much, they might find the clay that's left underneath too poor (in nutrients) for crops, and it would have to be a pasture for a few years first.

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    $\begingroup$ This strikes me as the most realistic option for 17th century Europe. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 15:38

Of course it would, all you need are appropriate seeds to grind into flour, have you never heard of rice bread?

If your wetlands have deeper water cover than works for rice then either a variant of rice with longer stalks or some variety of reed like plant that has usable seeds would serve perfectly well.

As for importing it, why would you need to? nothing stops you growing it right there, varieties of wild rice can be found growing in areas of both Canada and the US that don't necessarily have what might be considered the best climate for common commercially grown strains.

So it's not so hard to produce viable variants for cooler climates should we want to and perfectly reasonable to posit early domestication of rice grains in cooler climates for alternate timelines.


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