Gaebalsirijo Foxtail Millet

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Gaebalsirijo is an ancient variety of glutinous millet of Jeju Island.
Due to its dark green color and sticky characteristics, the gaebalsirijo millet was also called geomeunheurinjo (dark glutinous foxtail millet). Since it came from the yukji (mainland) of Korea long days ago, it was also called yukjijo (mainland millet). If the earhead (kogori in the Jeju language) and grain was noran (yellow) then it was called noran gaebalsirijo and that was the plant that was originally on the Jeju Island. To the Jeju people the hulled millet’s color is considered darker and hence why it’s called black millet.
In the past it was cultivated everywhere on Jeju Island, especially in middle mountain and coastal field regions, but today is not currently being cultivated.

The leaves and stems of gaebalsirijo are red once matured. The tip of the earhead splits into three to five parts, and if you lay it in the palm of your hand, it is reminiscent of a dog’s foot. It is glutinous so it was used as a grain dish, for tteok (grain cake), or to make alcohol.

Chajo (glutinous millet), or heurinjo in the Jeju language, along with mejo (non-glutinous millet), or moinjo in the Jeju language, were both cultivated on Jeju Island but, because chajo had more uses, its production was higher.
Gaebalsirijo two varieties were dark green and yellow. The dark green variety had red stems and redish leaves. The yellow variety had white stems and green leaves.
This particular variety of dark green gaebalsirijo was long grown by Haeok Yang and Hyeongjun Gang and was collected in 2008. They are an elderly couple living on a family farm at Eoeum-ri, Aewol-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju Island.
When Haeok Yang was very young, a new gaebalsirijo veriety was imported into Jeju and it tasted good. Farming it was easy and the harvest was good, too. From then on, most people ended up growing this gaebalsirijo for heurinjo (glutinous millet) for themselves.
When the Native Exploration Team was collecting native species on Jeju Island in 2008, dark green gaebalsirijo was collected and submitted to the National Seed Bank. However, very few farmers are likely to be using the variety that was reintroduced from the mainland, so the reality is that the efforts to prevent extinction of the varieties of chajo (millet) seem to not be going well.

During the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC – 668 AD) in Korea, millet was an important crop. In the historical book Samguk sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms, it was written “Grain (millet) is scarce, so the people are starving.” According to the historical book Gyerimyusa, millet was the most common of the major five grains in Goguryeo, one of the three ancient kingdoms. During the period of united Silla too, the most important crop was millet. According to the Jeju folklore book Segyeongbonpuri, it is told that the main character named Jacheongbi brought the major five grains to Jeju Island.
Rice was rare on Jeju Island so whether the rice was cultivated from a dry field or a wet paddy it was called fine or beautiful rice because it was regarded precious. Eating food and tteok made from rice was a dream of the poor common people. Barley, wheat, and millet were very important crops for the survival of the Jeju people as those grains could be harvested two times a year. As staple food, they were used to make cooked grain dishes and porridge. On top of that, they were used to make tteok with millet on special days as well as to make alcohol instead of rice. As the elderly say, “Even though it’s only millet, if we can eat it then it’s good,” which expresses the Jeju people’s way of living well.

For many generations, farmers on Jeju Island primarily used dry fields instead of wet paddies. Because Jeju is a volcanic island that is mostly mountainous, it was difficult to keep water due to the porous soil and therefore wet paddies were rare. In the dry fields, foxtail millet, proso millet, barley, soybean, buckwheat, and upland rice were grown. Among those, foxtail millet and after that barley were the most important grains grown followed by soybean and azuki bean.

On Jeju Island, barley is harvested at the end of May or early June and then, after the field is plowed, millet is planted by scattering the seeds at the end of June or early July. In October, the millet is cut and harvested, and barley is planted again. This one-year two crop rotation system of cultivating these two crops used to be common.

Until the Korean War in 1950, a lot of millet was grown but cultivation gradually decreased.
However, beginning in the 1980s millet farming rapidly began to disappear from the island. The fundamental reason for its disappearance was that as rice began to be introduced from the mainland of Korea in large amounts, it became the staple food and there was less demand for millet farming. As the demand for barley, buckwheat, and other grains in addition to millet rapidly decreased so too did the arable farmland. Especially starting in the 1970s farming in the Seogwipo area of Jeju began to shift its cultivation mainly to gamgyul (tangerine) since it was becoming a cash crop. After that, subsistence grain farmers substantially reduced their cultivation and shifted to buying their staple grains with the money made from gamgyul cultivation. Aside from its use as a food, glutinous millet production has continued to survive through its use for making alcohol as well as yeot (taffy). However, in the mid 1990s as cheap millet from the other countries was released into the market, home brewing of alcohol was decreased and demand for yeot decreased, the glutinous millet farmers on Jeju that were just surviving before were greatly damaged and then gave up farming all together.

Rice was used as a grain dish, tteok (grain cake), or to make alcohol but, because it was precious and rare on the island, millet, especially glutinous millet, was used in place of rice. When cooking jobap (a cooked millet grain dish), or jopap in Jeju language, sweet potatoes were also added. When using millet to make tteok (grain cake), it was typically made into sirutteok (steamed grain cake), or chimtteok in Jeju language.
Sirutteok (steamed grain cake) made mostly from millet is called jochimtteok (steamed millet cake). Millet along with other ingredients such as sweet potato or radish were also included in jochimtteok. In one kind of sirutteok layers were stacked to create a cake. The layers alternated between millet and rice. This kind of cake was called chingbuti or jingbut in Jeju language because the Korean word cheung (layers) was pronounced as ching or jing on Jeju Island. The name derives from the fact that the layers (ching) were stuck together (buti) so it was called chingbuti. Millet was also used to make alcohol. When making makgeolli (unrefined grain wine) moinjo (non-glutinous millet) was used primarily. However, when making cheongju (refined grain wine) heurinjo (glutinous millet) was used. Heurinjo was also used to make tteok ( cake). That tteok was called omegi and it was like a donut in that it had a hole pressed into the middle. However, omegi was more often made as just the middle step to creating an alcoholic beverage called omegisul.
Juk (porridge) was made from non-glutinous hulled millet. The porridge was said to be delicious as well as easy to digest.

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Nominated by:Minsu Kim, Wansik Ahn