Apr 092018
 

On 9th April, 1557 Mikael Agricola (Michael Olaui), the “father of literary Finnish” died, and Elias Lönnrot, a collector of Finnish folklore was born on this date in 1802. Because of the coincidence, today is marked as Finnish Language Day. Michael Olaui or Mikkel Olofsson (Finnish: Mikael Olavinpoika) was born in Nyland (Uusimaa) in the village of Torsby in Pernå (Pernaja), Sweden (now Finland), around the year 1510. He was named after the patron saint of Pernå’s church. The exact date of his birth, like most details of his life, is unknown. His family was a quite wealthy peasant family according to the local bailiff’s accounting. He had three sisters, but their names are not known. His teachers apparently recognized his aptitude for languages and his rector, Bartholomeus, sent him to Viborg (Finnish: Viipuri; now Vyborg, Russia) for Latin school and some priestly training, where he attended the school of Erasmus. It is not known whether his first language was Finnish or Swedish. Pernå was mostly a Swedish-speaking district, but the language he used in his works indicates that he was a native speaker of Finnish. However, he mastered both languages like a native speaker and was possibly a bilingual child.

When Michael studied in Viborg he assumed the surname Agricola (“farmer”). Surnames based on one’s father’s status and occupation were common for first-generation scholars at the time. It was probably there that he first came in touch with the Reformation and Humanism. Viipuri castle was ruled by a German count, Johann, who had served the king of Sweden, Gustav Vasa. The count was a supporter of the Reformation, and they already held Lutheran services.

In 1528 Agricola followed his teacher to Turku (Åbo), then the center of the Finnish side of the Swedish realm and the capital of the bishopric. There Agricola became a scribe in bishop Martinus Skytte’s office. While in Turku Agricola met Martin Luther’s first Finnish student Petrus Särkilahti, who eagerly spread the idea of the Reformation. Särkilahti died in 1529, and it was up to Agricola to continue Särkilahti’s work. Agricola was ordained for the priesthood circa 1531. In 1536 the bishop of Turku sent Agricola to study in Wittenberg. He concentrated on the lectures of Philipp Melanchthon. He also studied under Luther. Agricola got recommendations to the Swedish king, Gustav Vasa, from both of the reformers. He sent two letters to Gustav, asking for a confirmation for a stipend. In 1537 he started translating the New Testament into Finnish, thus helping establish Finnish as a written language.

In 1539 Agricola returned to Turku and ended up as the rector of Turku Cathedral School. He did not like his job, calling his students “untamed animals.” At the time Gustav Vasa had confiscated the property of the church when he was consolidating his power, but he also drove the Reformation. In 1544 Agricola received an order from the crown to send several talented young men to Stockholm’s taxing offices. For some reason, Agricola did not obey until the order was sent again the next year, with a more menacing tone. This episode probably affected their relations negatively.

In 1546 Agricola lost his home and school in the Fire of Turku. On 22nd February 1548, Gustav Vasa ordered Agricola to retire from his position as rector. At this time Agricola was already married, but history knows his wife only by her name: Pirjo Olavintytär (Bridget, “daughter of Olavi”; Birgitta Olafsdotter, Brigida Olaui). His only son, Christian Agricola (Christianus Michaelis Agricola), was born 11th December 1550, and became the bishop of Tallinn in 1584.

When an old bishop died in 1554, Gustav Vasa had Agricola consecrated as the ordinarius of Turku parish – for all practical purposes Bishop of Turku and by extension the first Lutheran bishop for all Finland. Agricola was not a particularly strict or dedicated reformer, although he did remove the Canon of the Mass. In 1557 Agricola joined the delegation going to Russia and was in Moscow from 21st February to 24th March negotiating a peace treaty, the Treaty of Novgorod (1557). On 9th April he fell ill and died in Uusikirkko (now Polyane) village, part of the Kyrönniemi parish on the Karelian Isthmus. Agricola was buried inside Viipuri’s church, but the exact location of the grave is not known.

Elias Lönnrot (1802 – 1884) was a Finnish physician, philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry. He is best known for creating the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, (1835, enlarged 1849), from short ballads and lyric poems, gathered from the Finnish oral tradition during several expeditions in Finland, Russian Karelia, the Kola Peninsula and Baltic countries. Lönnrot was born in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa, Finland, which was then part of Sweden. He studied medicine at the Academy of Turku. The Great Fire of Turku (not to be confused with the 1548 Turku fire when Agricola lost his home !!), coincided with his first academic year. Because the university was destroyed in the fire, it was moved to Helsinki, the newly established administrative center of the Grand Duchy and the present capital city of Finland. Lönnrot followed and graduated in 1832.

Lönnrot got a job as district doctor of Kajaani in Eastern Finland during a time of famine and pestilence in the district. The famine had prompted the previous doctor to resign, making it possible for a very young doctor to get such a position. Several consecutive years of crop failure resulted in losses of population and livestock. In addition, lack of a hospital further complicated Lönnrot’s work. He was the sole doctor for 4,000 or so people, most of whom lived in small rural communities scattered across the district. As physicians and novel drugs were expensive at the time, most people relied on their village healers and locally available remedies. Lönnrot himself was keen on traditional remedies and also administered them. However, he believed strongly that preventive measures such as good hygiene, breastfeeding babies, and vaccines were the most effective measures for most of his patients.

His true passion lay in his native Finnish language. He began writing about the early Finnish language in 1827 and began collecting folk tales from rural people about that time. In 1831, the Finnish Literature Society was founded, and Lönnrot, being one of the founder members, received financial support from the society for his collecting efforts. Lönnrot went on extended leaves of absence from his doctor’s office; he toured the countryside of Finland, Sapmi (Lapland), and nearby portions of Russian Karelia. This led to a series of books: Kantele, 1829–1831 (the kantele is a Finnish traditional instrument); Kalevala, 1835–1836 (the “old” Kalevala); Kanteletar, 1840; Sananlaskuja, 1842 (Proverbs); an expanded second edition of Kalevala, 1849 (the “new” Kalevala). Lönnrot was recognized for his part in preserving Finland’s oral traditions by appointment to the Chair of Finnish Literature at the University of Helsinki in 1853.

He also undertook the task of compiling the first Finnish-Swedish dictionary (Finsk-Svenskt lexikon, 1866–1880). The result comprised over 200,000 entries, and many of the Finnish translations were coined by Lönnrot himself. His vast knowledge of traditional Finnish poetry made him an authority in Finland and many of his inventions have stuck. Finnish scientific terminology was particularly influenced by Lönnrot’s work and therefore many abstract terms that have a Latin or Greek etymology in mainstream European languages appear as native neologisms in Finnish. Examples from linguistics and medicine include kielioppi (grammar), kirjallisuus (literature), laskimo (vein) and valtimo (artery).

Botanists remember him for writing the first Finnish-language Flora Fennica – Suomen Kasvisto in 1860; in its day it was famed throughout Scandinavia, as it was among the very first common-language scientific texts. The second, expanded version was co-authored by Th. Saelan and published in 1866. The Flora Fennica was the first scientific work published in Finnish (rather than Latin). In addition, Lönnrot’s Flora Fennica includes many notes on plant uses in between his descriptions of flowers and leaves.

I have chosen the Finnish dish kalakukko for today’s celebratory recipe. I have given some Finnish dishes before, and they are all a bit basic. Get behind the inscrutable Finnish name, and you have something quite ordinary found across Europe: Kaalikääryleet (stuffed cabbage), Hernekeitto (split pea soup), Perunamuusi (mashed potatoes). Of course these dishes have local twists, and local ingredients make a difference. Kalakukko is sort of a pie, sort of a stuffed bread, sort of a pasty. It is fish, pork belly, and sometimes vegetables, wrapped in a rye bread dough and baked. Here’s a video (in Finnish) to give you the idea, and then I will give a recipe.

Kalakukko

Ingredients

Filling

2 lb small fish, cleaned and gutted (heads on or off as you choose)
1 ½ lbs belly pork, sliced like bacon
salt
1 tsp allspice

Dough

2 ½ cups tepid water (approx.)
3 ¼ cups rye flour
1 ¾ cups whole-wheat flour
4 tsp salt
½ oz active dry yeast

Instructions

Sift the flours and salt together into a mixing bowl.

Put the yeast in the water in a cup and stir.

When the yeast is fully dissolved, make a thick dough by pouring water into the dough and mixing well. The ratio of flour to water depends on the nature of the flours. This ratio of 1:2 by volume works well in Finland with Finnish flours. Where flours contain more gluten you should use slightly less water.

Set aside about 4 tablespoons of dough to be used later. Roll out the remaining dough into a circular shape about ¾ inch thick.

Assemble the meats on the dough. Use the video as a guide. Cover the inner half of the dough circle with half of the pork (the pork should cover a circle whose diameter is half the diameter of the rolled dough). Then put all of the fish over top of the pork, and add allspice and extra salt if you are using them. Finish with the second half of the pork.

Preheat the oven to 500˚F/260˚C.

Lift the edges of the dough all around the filling and glue together with a little water so that you have the filling surrounded from all directions with about ¾ inch-thick dough. Put upside down (the seam downwards) on a baking sheet and let it rise about half an hour at room temperature.

Put the kalakukko in a 500˚F oven for long enough to brown the dough, which will seal it against moisture. Then lower the temperature to about 250˚F/130˚C and let it bake for about 4 hours, or longer depending on the size of the fish (bigger fish need more cooking time). You can brush some melted butter over the top of the dough just after lowering the temperature. This will give it a prettier (browner) appearance. If it starts to leak while baking, fill holes with the dough which was set aside. In the video they wrap the kalakukko in foil for the second baking, which prevents leakage.

Cut a lid in the top to scoop out the filling, and serve accompanied by the bread casing. This dish may be eaten hot or cold.

 

Nov 022017
 

Today is All Souls’ Day commemorating All Souls, the Holy Souls, or the Faithful Departed, that is, the souls of Christians who have died. Observing Christians typically remember deceased relatives on the day. In Western Christianity the annual celebration is now held on 2 November and is associated with the three days of Allhallowtide, including All Saints’ Day (1 November) and its vigil, All Hallows Eve (31 October):

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/allhallowtide/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/all-saints-day/

It’s taken me quite a few years to tick off all three days of the triduum, but this year I can complete the set with All Souls. Just about every culture I know of, worldwide, has a special day (or season) to pay homage to the dead. Eventually – if I keep posting – I’ll mention Celtic Samhain which occurs around this time, marking the passage from the summer to the winter season, and is associated with the appearance of spirits of the dead. Unfortunately customs from Samhain and Halloween have merged over the years, and it will be good to pull them apart, as is my wont.

In the Catholic Church, “the faithful” refers specifically to baptized Catholics. The term “all souls” commemorates the church penitent of souls in Purgatory, whereas “all saints” commemorates the church triumphant of saints in Heaven. In the liturgical books of the western Catholic Church (the Latin Church) it is called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Commemoratio omnium fidelium defunctorum). Protestants don’t buy into the idea of Purgatory, but both Lutherans and Calvinists have a long tradition of honoring the day. Anglicans are iffy about it (which fits my general belief that Anglicans have never quite made up their minds about whether they want to be Catholic or not – they can’t make up their minds about much of anything).

Saint Odilo of Cluny (c. 962 – 1 January 1049), fifth Benedictine Abbot of Cluny, established All Souls’ Day on 2nd November in Cluny and its monasteries as the annual commemoration to pray for all the faithful departed. The practice was soon adopted throughout the whole Western church (but not the Eastern rite). Among continental Protestants the All Souls tradition has been tenaciously maintained. During Luther’s lifetime, All Souls’ Day was widely observed in Saxony although the Roman Catholic meaning of the day was discarded. Ecclesiastically in the Lutheran Church, the day was merged with, and is often seen as an extension of All Saints’ Day, with many Lutherans still visiting and decorating graves on all the days of Allhallowtide, including All Souls’ Day. Just as it is the custom of French people to decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts, so German, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian people visit graveyards once a year with offerings of flowers and special grave lights.

I may get round to a lengthier exposition on the Day of the Dead in Mexico one year. Indigenous celebrations of the departed have been going on in Mexico for millennia. After Spanish colonization these celebrations became linked to the Allhallowtide triduum in some parts of Mexico, especially the south. El Día de Muertos (NOT El Día de LOS Muertos, you Anglophone heathens), can be celebrated on November 1 or 2 or both. In some traditions the 1st is reserved for departed infants and children, and the 2nd for departed adults. Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period families usually clean and decorate graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas (altars), which often include orange Mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchil (originally named cempoaxochitl, Nāhuatl for “twenty flowers”). In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Some families have ofrendas in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls; and beverages such as atole.

Here’s my favorite requiem for the day (favorite because I sang in it as a teen):

You’ve got a wide range of possibilities for recipes today. I’ve already given you recipes for soul cakes and mashed potatoes and turnips with fish to celebrate the season. I’ll go with eggs in Purgatory today.

Eggs in Purgatory

Ingredients:

6 to 8 large eggs
2 large cans tomatoes, drained and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup shredded melting cheese
1 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring until they become soft and their juices, if any, have evaporated. Add the tomatoes and stir to heat thoroughly. With a spoon, make 6 to 8 (for each egg) nest spaces and break an egg into each space. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and cover evenly with cheese. Cover the pan and cook on low heat until the eggs are set. Garnish with parsley. Serve with crusty bread or toast.

Aug 132016
 

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On this date, the Lutheran church celebrates Clara Louise Maass (June 28, 1876 – August 24, 1901) in its Calendar of Saints. She was a nurse from the US who died as a result of volunteering for medical experiments to study yellow fever.

Clara Maass was born in East Orange, New Jersey, to German immigrants Hedwig and Robert Maass. She was the eldest of 10 children in a devout Lutheran family. In 1895, she became one of the first graduates of Newark German Hospital’s Christina Trefz Training School for Nurses. By 1898, she had been promoted to head nurse at Newark German Hospital, where she was known for her hard work and dedication to her profession.

In April 1898, during the Spanish–American War, Maass volunteered as a contract nurse for the United States Army (the Army Nurse Corps did not yet exist). She served with the Seventh U. S. Army Corps from October 1, 1898, to February 5, 1899, in Jacksonville, Florida, Savannah, Georgia, and Santiago, Cuba. She was discharged in 1899, but volunteered again to serve with the Eighth U.S. Army Corps in the Philippines from November 1899 to mid-1900.

During her service with the military, she saw few battle injuries. Instead, most of her nursing duties involved providing medical care to soldiers suffering from infectious diseases, such as typhoid, malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. She contracted dengue in Manila, and was sent home.

Shortly after finishing her second assignment with the army, Maass returned to Cuba in October 1900 after being summoned by William Gorgas, who was working with the U.S. Army’s Yellow Fever Commission. The commission, headed by Major Walter Reed, was established during the post-war occupation of Cuba in order to investigate yellow fever, which was causing major problems in Cuba at the time. One of the commission’s goals was to determine how the disease was spread. At the time it was not known whether it was spread by mosquito bites or by contact with contaminated objects, but Reed theorized that mosquitoes were the culprits and wanted to test his belief.

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The commission recruited human subjects because they did not know of any animals that could contract yellow fever (primates are the only vector). In the first recorded instance of informed consent in human experiments, volunteers were told that participation in the studies might cause their deaths. As an incentive, volunteers were paid US$100 (approximately $3,000 today), with an additional $100 if the volunteer became ill.

In March 1901, Maass volunteered to be bitten by a Culex fasciata mosquito (now called Aedes aegypti) that had been allowed to feed on yellow fever patients. She contracted a mild case of the disease from which she quickly recovered. By this time, the researchers were reasonably certain that mosquitoes were the route of transmission, but lacked convincing scientific evidence to prove it, because some volunteers who were bitten remained healthy. Maass continued to volunteer for experiments.

On August 14, 1901, Maass allowed herself to be bitten by infected mosquitoes for the second time. Researchers were hoping to show that her earlier case of yellow fever was sufficient to immunize her against the disease. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Maass once again became ill with yellow fever on August 18, and died on August 24 (aged 25). Her death roused public sentiment and put an end to yellow fever experiments on human subjects. Maass was buried in Colon Cemetery in Havana with military honors. Her body was moved to Fairmount Cemetery, Newark, New Jersey, on February 20, 1902.

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In 1951, the 50th anniversary of her death, Cuba issued a postage stamp in her honor.

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On June 19, 1952, Newark German Hospital (which had since moved to Belleville, New Jersey) was renamed Clara Maass Memorial Hospital, and it is now known as Clara Maass Medical Center.

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In 1976, the 100th anniversary of her birth, Maass was honored with a 13¢ United States commemorative stamp.

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Also in 1976, the American Nurses Association inducted her into its Nursing Hall of Fame.

I’ve chosen the Cuban sandwich as a recipe to honor Clara Maass because it has associations with both late 19th century Florida and Cuba where she worked. As with Cuban bread [below], the origin of the Cuban sandwich (sometimes called a “Cuban mix,” a “mixto,” a “Cuban pressed sandwich,” or a “Cubano” is murky. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, travel between Cuba and Florida was easy, especially from Key West and Tampa, and Cubans frequently sailed back and forth for employment, pleasure, and family visits. Because of this constant and largely undocumented movement of people, culture and ideas, it is impossible to say exactly when or where the Cuban sandwich originated. (As a small aside, I will note that at this time no one especially cared that the Cubans in Florida were undocumented.)

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It is believed by some that the sandwich was a common lunch food for workers in both the cigar factories and sugar mills of Cuba (especially in big cities such as Havana or Santiago de Cuba) and the cigar factories of Key West by the 1860s. Historian Loy Glenn Westfall suggests that the sandwich was “born in Cuba and educated in Key West.” The cigar industry in Florida shifted to Tampa in the 1880s and the sandwich quickly appeared in workers’ cafés in Ybor City and (later) West Tampa. In the 1960s the sandwich became popular in other cities in Florida because of the torrent of immigrants escaping Castro.

While there is some debate as to the contents of a “true” Cuban sandwich, most are generally agreed upon. The traditional Cuban sandwich starts with Cuban bread. The loaf is sliced into lengths of 8–12 inches (20–30 cm), lightly buttered or brushed with olive oil on the crust, and cut in half horizontally. A coat of yellow mustard is spread on the bread. Then sliced roast pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced dill pickles are added in layers. Sometimes the pork is marinated in mojo and slow roasted.

The main regional disagreement about the sandwich’s recipe is whether or not to include salami. In Tampa, Genoa salami is traditionally layered in with the other meats, probably due to influence of Italian immigrants who lived side-by-side with Cubans and Spaniards in Ybor City. In South Florida, salami is left out. Mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato are usually available options on Florida menus but are frowned upon by traditionalists.

Getting Cuban bread will be your main problem. The origins of “real” Cuban bread are as hotly debated as the “real” Cuban sandwich. The earliest U.S. bakery to produce Cuban bread was most likely La Joven Francesca bakery, which was established by the Sicilian-born Francisco Ferlita in 1896 in Ybor City, which was a thriving Cuban-Spanish-Italian community in Tampa at the time. The bakery originally sold bread for 3 to 5 cents per loaf, delivered every morning like milk. Houses in Ybor City often had a sturdy nail driven into the door frame on the front porch, and a bread deliveryman would impale the fresh loaf of bread on to the nail before dawn.

Ferlita’s bakery was destroyed by fire in 1922, leaving only the brick bread oven standing. He rebuilt it even larger than before and added a second oven, and it soon became a major supplier of Cuban bread for the Tampa/Ybor area. The bakery also added a dining area which became a place to congregate, drink a cup of Cuban coffee, and catch up on the local news. La Joven Francesca closed in 1973, but soon found new life when it was renovated and converted into the Ybor City State Museum, becoming the main part of the museum complex. The original ovens where the original Cuban bread was baked can still be seen.

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The Tampa Daily Journal, 1896, reported:

It is not amiss to say that the Latins in Ybor City make a very fine bread, equal in all respects to the French article of that kind and unexcelled by the Vienna product.

A traditional loaf of Cuban bread is approximately three feet long and somewhat rectangular crossways (as compared to the rounder shape of Italian or French bread loaves). It has a hard, thin, almost papery toasted crust and a soft flaky center. In the early days, the dough was stretched thin to make it last, creating the bread’s distinctive air pockets and long shape. As they have for decades, traditional Cuban bread makers lay a long, moist palmetto frond on top of the loaves before baking, creating a shallow trench in the upper crust, producing an effect similar to the slashing of a European-style loaf. (The frond is removed before eating.)