Mar 192019

Today is the birthday (1844) of Minna Canth, born Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson, a Finnish writer and social activist. Canth began to write while managing her family draper’s shop and living as a widow raising seven children. Her work addresses issues of women’s rights, particularly in the context of a prevailing culture she considered antithetical to the expression and realization of women’s aspirations. Her play The Pastor’s Family is her best known, although none of her plays is known particularly well outside of Finland, and few are translated into English. In her lifetime she became a controversial figure because her views did not mesh with the prevailing ideology in Finland, but these days she is hailed as a pioneer, and her birthday is recognized as a Flag Day (the first Flag Day to honor a woman be officially recognized in Finland (2007) and is also designated as a day of social equality).

Canth was born in Tampere to Gustaf Vilhelm Johnsson (1816-1877) and his wife Ulrika (1811-1893). Her father worked at James Finlayson’s textile factory initially as a worker and later as a foreman. In 1853, when he was given charge of Finlayson’s textile shop in Kuopio, the entire family relocated there. Canth received an exceptionally thorough education for a working class woman of her time. Even before moving to Kuopio she had attended school at Finlayson’s factory which was intended for the workers’ children. In Kuopio she continued to go to various girls’ schools and, as a testament to her father’s success as a shopkeeper, she was even admitted into a school intended for upper class children. In 1863 she began her studies at the recently founded Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary, which was the first school in Finland to offer higher education for women.

In 1865 she married her natural sciences teacher, Johan Ferdinand Canth, and had to drop out of the Seminary. Between 1866 and 1880 she gave birth to seven children and began her writing career at the newspaper Keski-Suomi, where her husband worked as an editor. She wrote about women’s issues and advocated temperance. In 1876 the Canths were forced to leave the paper because Minna’s pieces had caused social friction. They were, however, both employed by the competing Päijänne the following year. Minna published her first works of fiction in Päijänne: various short stories, which were compiled in her first book, Novelleja ja kertomuksia, in 1878.

Canth stood up when there was public debate about women’s rights. In 1885 a bishop had argued that God’s order required that women were not to be emancipated. The writer Gustaf af Geijerstam then argued that men could only aspire to one day have the purity of women because they were fundamentally different, and this was the reason for prostitution and other immorality on their part. Canth objected strongly to this argument as it meant that men could defend their poor morals by reference to their implicit shortcomings, whereas any women involved in prostitution would lack the same defense.

Minna Canth’s most important works are the plays Työmiehen vaimo (The Worker’s Wife) from 1885 and Anna Liisa (1895). In Työmiehen vaimo, the main character Johanna is married to Risto, an alcoholic who wastes all his wife’s money. Johanna cannot prevent him – her money is legally his, not hers. The play’s premiere caused scandal, but a few months later, parliament enacted a new law about separation of property. Anna Liisa is a tragedy about a fifteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant without being married – she manages to hide her pregnancy, and when the child is born, she suffocates it in a fit of panic. Her boyfriend, Mikko, and his mother help her – she buries the baby in the woods, but a few years later, when Anna Liisa wants to marry her fiancé Johannes, she is blackmailed by Mikko and his mother. They threaten to reveal her dark secret if she does not agree to marry Mikko, but Anna Liisa refuses. In the end, she decides to confess what she has done. She is taken to prison, but is much relieved after owning up and seems to have found peace.

After she died in 1897, Canth’s works were either forgotten on trivialized in Finland, and remained so for most of the 20th century. It has only been in the 21st century that her plays and novels have been highlighted as pioneering works, and she has been granted the recognition that she lacked for a century.

I have mentioned Finnish recipes a number of times, and the subject of pies of various (strange) types keeps popping up. Here is a video on Karelian pastries, a rice pudding filled raised rye dough that is popular throughout Finland.

Feb 062018

Today is Sámi National Day, an ethnic national day for the Sámi people that falls on February 6th because this date was when the first Sámi congress was held in 1917 in Trondheim. This congress was the first time that Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across their national borders to work together to find solutions for common problems. In 1992, at the 15th Sámi Conference in Helsinki, a resolution was passed that Sámi National Day should be celebrated on February 6th. Sámi National Day is a celebration for all Sámi, regardless of where they live, and on that day the Sámi flag should be flown and the Sámi national anthem is sung in the local Sámi dialect.

Through pure coincidence, this date also happened to be when representatives of the Sámi of the Kola Peninsula used to gather annually, meeting with Russian bureaucrats to debate and decide on issues of relevance to them. This body, called the Koladak Sobbar, has been called the ‘first Sámi Parliament’ by the researcher Johan Albert Kalstad. This information did not influence the choice of this date as the Sámi People’s Day, given that the people present did not know about it – the Koladak Sobbar existed during the late 19th century only, and was not ‘rediscovered’ by Kalstad until the 21st century.

Before I continue talking about the Sámi people in general, I want to point out that this celebration is really a model for indigenous peoples who are ethnic minorities, and who are scattered across national boundaries. The Sámi (often called Lapps in English) represent only about 5% of the population in the region where they live which spreads across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Long ago, they were the majority in the region, but they were slowly encroached upon by Scandinavians and Russians. The enduring question is how to maintain some degree of autonomy and unity in the face of pressures to assimilate to national cultures, especially when these nations fragment the region where they live – called Sápmi in Sámi (Lapland in English). The term Lapp (and European cognates) is sometimes seen as derogatory because it is an outsider term. It has no pejorative connotations that I know of, but it is best not to use it. Apparently, the Sámi object less to Lapland than to Lapp.

If we look at language first we can get a sense of the geography and distribution of the Sámi. The Saamic languages are the region’s main minority languages and also, of course, its original languages. They belong to the Uralic language family, and are most closely related to the Finnic languages. Many Sámi languages are mutually unintelligible, but the languages originally formed a dialect continuum stretching southwest-northeast, so that a message could hypothetically be passed between Sámi speakers from one end to the other and be understood by all. Today, however, many of the languages are all but extinct, and thus there are “gaps” in the original continuum.

On the map above numbers indicate Sámi Languages (Darkened areas represent municipalities that recognize Sámi as an official language.): 1. South (Åarjil) Sámi, 2. Ume (Upme) Sámi, 3. Pite (Bitthun) Sámi, 4. Lule (Julev) Sámi, 5. North (Davvi) Sámi, 6. Skolt Sámi, 7. Inari (Ánár) Sámi, 8. Kildin Sámi, 9. Ter Sámi. Of these languages the Northern one is by far the most vital, whereas Ume, Pite and Ter seem to be dying languages. Kemi Sámi is extinct.

Since prehistoric times, the Sámi people of Arctic Europe have lived and worked in an area that stretches over the northern parts of the regions now known as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Russian Kola Peninsula. They have inhabited the northern arctic and sub-arctic regions of Fenno-Scandinavia and Russia for at least 5,000 years. The Sámi are counted among the Arctic peoples and are members of circumpolar groups such as the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat. Petroglyphs and archeological findings such as settlements dating from about 10,000 BCE can be found in the traditional lands of the Sámi. These hunters and gatherers of the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic were named Komsa by the researchers because what they called themselves is unknown.

Recent archaeological discoveries in Finnish Lapland were originally seen as the continental version of the Komsa culture about the same age as the earliest finds on the coast of Norway. It is hypothesized that the Komsa followed receding glaciers inland from the Arctic coast at the end of the last ice age (between 11000 and 8000 BCE) as new land opened up for settlement (e.g., modern Finnmark area in the northeast of Norway, to the coast of the Kola Peninsula). For long periods of time, the Sámi lifestyle thrived because of its adaptation to the Arctic environment. Throughout the 18th century, as Norwegians of Northern Norway suffered from low fish prices and consequent depopulation, the Sámi cultural element was strengthened, since the Sámi were mostly independent of supplies from Southern Norway.

During the 19th century, Norwegian authorities pressured the Sámi to adopt Norwegian language and culture universal. Strong economic development of the north also ensued, giving Norwegian culture and language higher status. On the Swedish and Finnish sides, the authorities were less militant, although the Sámi language was forbidden in schools and strong economic development in the north led to weakened cultural and economic status for the Sámi. From 1913 to 1920, the Swedish race-segregation political movement created a race-based biological institute that collected research material from living people and graves, and sterilized Sámi women. Throughout history, Swedish settlers were encouraged to move to the northern regions through incentives such as land and water rights, tax allowances, and military exemptions.

The strongest pressure took place from around 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sámi culture. Anyone who wanted to buy or lease state lands for agriculture in Finnmark had to prove knowledge of the Norwegian language and had to register with a Norwegian name. This caused the dislocation of Sámi people in the 1920s, which increased the gap between local Sámi groups (something still present today) that sometimes has the character of an internal Sámi ethnic conflict. In 1913, the Norwegian parliament passed a bill on “native act land” to allocate the best and most useful lands to Norwegian settlers. Another factor was the scorched earth policy conducted by the German army, resulting in heavy war destruction in northern Finland and northern Norway in 1944–45, destroying all existing houses, or kota, and visible traces of Sámi culture. After World War II the pressure was relaxed though the legacy was evident into recent times, such as the 1970s law limiting the size of any house Sámi people were allowed to build.

The controversy over the construction of the hydro-electric power station in Alta in 1979 brought Sámi rights to the political agenda. In August 1986, the national anthem (“Sámi soga lávlla”) and flag (Sámi flag) of the Sámi people were created. In 1989, the first Sámi parliament in Norway was elected. In 2005, the Finnmark Act was passed in the Norwegian parliament giving the Sámi parliament and the Finnmark Provincial council a joint responsibility of administering the land areas previously considered state property. These areas (96% of the provincial area), which have always been used primarily by the Sámi, now belong officially to the people of the province, whether Sámi or Norwegian, and not to the Norwegian state.

The indigenous Sámi population are mostly urbanized, but a substantial number live in villages in the high arctic. The Sámi are still coping with the cultural consequences of language and culture loss related to generations of Sámi children taken to missionary and/or state-run boarding schools and the legacy of laws that were created to deny the Sámi rights (e.g., freedom of beliefs, use of indigenous language, land ownership, and freedom to practice traditional livelihoods). The Sámi are experiencing cultural and environmental threats, including oil exploration, mining, dam building, logging, climate change, military bombing ranges, tourism, and commercial development.

The Sámi have for centuries been the subject of discrimination and abuse by the dominant cultures claiming possession of their lands down to the present day. They have never been a single community in a single region of Lapland, with political autonomy. Norway has been greatly criticized by the international community for the politics of assimilation of and discrimination against the aboriginal peoples of the country. On 8 April 2011, the UN Racial Discrimination Committee recommendations were handed over to Norway. These addressed many issues, including the educational situation for students needing bilingual education in Sámi. One committee recommendation was that no language be allowed to be a basis for discrimination in the Norwegian anti-discrimination laws, and it recommended wording of Racial Discrimination Convention Article 1 contained in the Act. Further points of recommendation concerning the Sámi population in Norway included the incorporation of the racial Convention through the Human Rights Act, improving the availability and quality of interpreter services, and equality of the civil Ombudsman’s recommendations for action. A new present status report was to have been ready by the end of 2012.

Even in Finland, where Sámi children, like all Finnish children, are entitled to day care and language instruction in their own language, the Finnish government has denied funding for these rights in most of the country, including even in Rovaniemi, the largest municipality in Finnish Lapland. Sámi activists have pushed for nationwide application of these basic rights.

As in the other countries claiming sovereignty over Sámi lands, Sámi activists’ efforts in Finland in the 20th century achieved limited government recognition of Sámi rights as an ethnic minority, but the Finnish government has clung unyieldingly to its legally enforced premise that the Sámi must “prove” their land ownership, an idea incompatible with and antithetical to the traditional reindeer-herding Sámi way of life. This has effectively allowed the Finnish government to take land occupied by the Sámi for centuries without compensation.

On Sámi National Day, not only do Sámi throughout Sápmi raise the national flag and sing the national song, they also do a range of activities traditionally associated with Sámi culture, such as wear traditional dress, make traditional dishes and play or listen to traditional music.

A characteristic feature of Sámi musical tradition is the singing of yoik (also spelled joik). Yoiks are song-chants and are traditionally sung a cappella, usually sung slowly and deep in the throat with apparent emotional content of sorrow or anger. Yoiks can be dedicated to animals and birds in nature, special people or special occasions, and they can be joyous, sad, or melancholic. They often are based on syllablic improvisation. In recent years, musical instruments frequently accompany yoiks. The only traditional Sámi instruments that were sometimes used to accompany yoik are the “fadno” flute (made from reed-like Angelica archangelica stems) and hand drums (frame drums and bowl drums).

Traditional foods of the Sámi involve reindeer, fish, and flatbread. Reindeer is absolutely the most characteristic ingredient, because the Sámi for centuries were reindeer herders. Traditionally, the reindeer were not fully domesticated, but the Sámi were nomadic, following the herds on their seasonal migrations. You might have trouble getting hold of some reindeer to roast, but you might be able to make flatbread.

Gáhkko is a traditional Sámi flatbread that has a faint taste of anise. It uses yeast, so it is puffier than other flatbreads, and it is also more complex than most. The most traditional method of cooking is in a dry, cast-iron skillet over an open fire, but a stovetop works as well. This is but one recipe. There are countless styles. You can use a number of sugar syrups in place of Golden Syrup, but do not use corn syrup. If you wish, you can cut fewer breads than described here and make them larger.



3 ½ oz/100 gm butter, melted
2 tbsp Golden Syrup
2 tsp anise
2 pints/1 liter milk
2 oz/50 gm yeast
1 tsp salt
2 – 2 ½ lb/1-1.2 kg flour


Place the melted butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the anise and syrup and stir well until the syrup has been thoroughly incorporated with the butter. Mix in the milk and heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat.

Crumble the yeast into milk mixture and stir well until it has dissolved. Pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add the flour and salt to the liquid. Add the flour slowly and mix only until you have a smooth dough. Do not add too much flour. It can be slightly sticky. Turn out on to a flat surface, lightly floured if need be, and knead for about 20 minutes.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.

Turn the dough on to a flat surface again and knead it again. Then roll the dough into a long sausage, and cut it into about 40 small pieces. Roll the pieces into small balls with your hands and let them rest for about 5 minutes.

Press the balls flat and pat them between your palms until you have round breads about ¼ inch thick. Let them for about 30 minutes.

Bake the breads in batches in a dry frying pan on a campfire or on the stovetop for about 5-6 minutes on each side. They are cooked when they are golden-brown on both sides.

Let the gáhkko cool, but eat immediately. They can be eaten with soups or stews, or with sliced cheese.



Jul 272016


Today is National Sleepy Head Day (Finnish: Unikeonpäivä) in Finland. This holiday does very little to disprove my general hypothesis that Finns are loony. I have no doubt that some are sane, but I’ve not met them yet. My mind immediately takes me back to a night I spent with two Finnish professional oboe players in Edinburgh that involved a lot of ice-cold vodka. However, I will cop to the possibility that I am not entirely sane myself and that I have a habit of attracting loonies.


National Sleepy Head is apparently related to the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, which I covered here but I am not sure exactly how. Seven Sleepers Day is 27 June, so the day is correct, but not the month. There’s the usual rubbish talked about the festivity of course, with no primary evidence to back it up. General folklore is that it dates to Medieval times, but the first documented example comes from the 18th century, and the contemporary practice is certainly modern. The general folklore is that a person who sleeps late on this date will be lazy and non-productive for the rest of the year. I like it; it’s a novel twist on weather prognostication. It’s also suitably Finnish and Finns should be proud.


The general idea is that the last person in the house asleep is to be woken up using water. This can be by dumping water over them in bed, or by tossing them into a lake or the sea. In the city of Naantali, a Finnish celebrity is chosen every year to be thrown in the sea from the city’s port at 7 a.m. The identity of the sleeper is kept secret until the event. People who are chosen have usually done something to the benefit of the city. Every city mayor has thus far been thrown into the sea at least once, but other sleepers have included the president Tarja Halonen’s husband, Dr Pentti Arajärvi, the CEO of Neste Oil Risto Rinne, along with many writers, artists and politicians. The celebrations continue into the evening in Naantali and include activities for everyone.

Finnish cuisine, such as it is, is nothing to write home about. Like all Scandinavian cuisines it is plain and bland. In former times, the country’s harsh climate meant that fresh fruit and vegetables were largely unavailable for nine months of the year, leading to a heavy reliance on staple tubers (initially turnip, later potato), dark rye bread and fermented dairy products, occasionally enlivened with preserved fish and meat. Traditionally, very few spices other than salt were available, and fresh herbs like dill were limited to the summer months. Many Finnish traditional dishes are prepared by stewing them for a long time in an oven, which produces hearty but bland fare. Nowadays an emphasis on absolute freshness dominates over variety.

Because of the country’s location and historical influences, Finnish cuisine is very similar to Swedish cuisine with German and Russian overtones. Swedish dishes like Janssons frestelse (janssoninkiusaus), pyttipannu, and gravlax are common in Finland. The overarching difference is the Finns’ preference for unsweetened foods. For example, while traditional Swedish rye bread includes plenty of syrup and spices, Finnish rye bread is unsweetened, even bitter. Sausages and buttered bread (like Butterbrot), and kiisseli (kissel) and karjalanpiirakka (pirozhki) are similar to their respective German and Russian counterparts.


I will say that Finland has a strong tradition of using berries in cooking, especially arctic berries, which are delicious. Traditionally, wild arctic berries were eaten fresh in summer and dried at other times of year. It is still quite common to go picking berries straight from the forests. Wild raspberries, bilberries and lingonberries (cowberries) are found in almost every part of Finland, while cloudberries, cranberries, arctic brambles and sea buckthorns grow in more limited areas. The intensely flavored wild strawberry (metsämansikka) is a seasonal delicacy used for decorating cakes, served alone, or with cheese, cream or ice cream.


I think fish is the order of the day for a celebration involving throwing people into the sea. Fried vendace (Coregonus albula) is a summer-time delicacy in Finland. The fish are fried whole and served with potatoes and garlic sauce. Vendace is a lake whitefish in the salmon family that you will find in northern Europe, although it is not as plentiful as it used to be. It’s a small fish, so even if you have mature fish you’ll need 2 or 3 per person. I’ve only ever had it as whitebait (tiny fish, deep fried).


Usual rules for frying whole fish apply. Dry the fish well and coat them lightly in flour. Fry the fish in batches in hot oil, turning once. Make sure that the skin is crisp and golden.

Feb 052016


Today is the birthday (1804) of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, a Finnish-Swedish poet, and the national poet of Finland. He wrote in the Swedish language. His birthday is commemorated in Finland as Runeberg Day, and is a true foodie anniversary because the centerpiece of the celebration is the locally famous Runeberg Torte (Finnish: Runebergintorttu; Swedish: Runebergstårta).

Runeberg studied first in the cities of Vaasa and Oulu, later on at the Imperial Academy of Turku, where he befriended Johan Vilhelm Snellman and Zacharias Topelius. His studies concentrated mainly on the classical languages of Latin and Greek. From 1837 onwards he lived in Porvoo, where he served as professor of Latin literature in the Gymnasium of Porvoo. He was married to his second cousin Fredrika Runeberg, née Tengström, with whom he had eight children and who wrote poems and novels, too. His eldest son was the sculptor Walter Runeberg.


Many of his poems deal with life in rural Finland. The best known of these is Bonden Paavo, (Farmer Paavo, Saarijärven Paavo in Finnish), about a smallholding peasant farmer in the poor parish of Saarijärvi and his determination, “sisu” (guts) and unwavering faith in providence in the face of a harsh climate and years of bad harvests. Three times, a frosty night destroys his crops. Every time, he mixes double the amount of bark into his bark bread to stave off starvation and works ever harder to dry off marsh into dryer land that would not be as exposed to the night frost. After the fourth year, Paavo finally gets a rich crop. As his wife exults, thanks God and tells Paavo to enjoy bread made entirely out of grain, Paavo instructs his wife to mix bark into the grain once more, because their neighbor’s crop has been lost in a frost and he gives half of his crop to the needy neighbor.

Runeberg’s most famous work is Fänrik Ståls sägner (The Tales of Ensign Stål, Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat in Finnish) written between 1848 and 1860. It is considered the greatest Finnish epic poem outside the native Kalevala tradition and contains tales of the Finnish War of 1808–09 with Russia. In the war, Sweden lost Finland, which became a Grand Duchy in the Russian empire. The poem, which is composed episodically, emphasizes the common humanity of all sides in the conflict, while principally lauding the heroism of the Finns. The first poem “Vårt land” (Our Land, Maamme in Finnish) became the Finnish National Anthem.


Runeberg torte is a Finnish pastry flavored with almonds and arrack* (or rum). Raspberry jam inside a sugar ring is commonly placed on top of the tart. Runeberg, according to legend, ate the torte with punsch* at every breakfast. Runeberg tortes are typically eaten only in Finland and are generally available in stores from the beginning of January to Runeberg’s birthday on February 5. Popular legend says that Runeberg’s wife, Fredrika Runeberg, created the torte. Her recipe book from the 1850s has the torte’s recipe, which is believed to be a variation of an earlier recipe by confectioner Lars Astenius from Porvoo. The moulds should be deeper than the usual Western cupcake or muffin pan.

Runeberg torte


200 g butter
120 g sugar
2 eggs
130 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
80 g crushed sweet plain biscuits (cookies)
80 g ground almonds
12  mL single cream

To moisten

25 mL water
120 g sugar
2 -3 tbsp arrack liqueur (or 2 -3 tbsp rum)


raspberry jam (or raspberry marmalade)


120 g icing sugar
2 tsp lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 200° C.

Mix the almonds and biscuit crumbs.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer. Add one egg at a time to the butter and sugar, and beat the mixture well after each egg. Combine the flour and baking powder and stir into the mixture. Add the, bread crumbs and almonds, then the cardamom, and finally the cream. Fold everything together gently.

Grease 24 deep muffin moulds and divide the mix between them (with room left for the cakes to rise). Press a hollow in the top of top of each cake with a finger tip. Fill each hollow with raspberry jam. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes.

Boil the water and dissolve the sugar in it. Turn off the heat and add the arrack. Moisten the baked muffins with the liquid. While the muffins are still hot, add another half a teaspoonful of jam to the middle. Let the muffins cool.

Combine the icing sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. Use a piping tube to pipe the icing in a circle around the jam.

*Note: [on arrack and punsch]


Arrack, also spelt arak in Indonesian, is a distilled alcoholic drink typically produced in South Asia and Southeast Asia, made from either the fermented sap of coconut flowers, sugarcane, grain (e.g. red rice) or fruit, depending upon the country of origin. The clear distillate may be blended, aged in wooden barrels, or repeatedly distilled and filtered depending upon the taste and color objectives of the manufacturer. Arrack is not to be confused with arak, an anise-flavored alcoholic beverage traditionally drunk in Eastern Mediterranean and North African countries.


Punsch is a traditional liqueur in Sweden and Finland (known as punssi in Finnish), produced from arrack, other spirits (often brandy or rum), sugar and water. Arrack, first imported to Sweden from Java in 1733, is the base ingredient of punsch. Punsch usually has 25% alcohol by volume (ABV) and 30% sugar.

Originally, Swedish/Finnish punsch was a variant of punch, which became a popular drink all over Europe in the 18th century, having been introduced to Britain from India in the late 17th century. The word punch/punsch is a loanword from Sanskrit पञ्च (pañc), meaning “five”, as punch was originally made with five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices. The English spelling of the word was in Sweden and Germany adapted to local spelling rules, thus becoming punsch. In Sweden, regular punch is also served, but in order to differentiate it from the liqueur known as punsch, it is known as punschbål (punch bowl) or simply bål (bowl).

Jan 132016


Today is Tjugondag jul (“Twentieth Day Yule”), or Tjugondag Knut (“Twentieth Day Knut”), or Knutomasso, in English, Saint Knut’s Day, (Finnish: nuutinpäivä), a traditional festival celebrated in Sweden and Finland on 13 January. It is not celebrated in Denmark despite being named for the Danish prince Canute Lavard, and later also associated with his uncle, Canute the Saint, the patron saint of Denmark. Christmas trees are taken down on Tjugondag jul, and the candies and cookies that decorated the tree are eaten. In Sweden, the feast held during this event is called a Christmas tree plundering (Julgransplundring). In other words, in Sweden and Finland Christmas is really, really, really over.


Canute Lavard (Knut Levard in Swedish) was a Danish duke who was assassinated by his cousin and rival Magnus Nilsson on 7 January 1131 so he could usurp the Danish throne. In the aftermath of his death there was a civil war, which led to Knut being later declared a saint, and 7 January became Knut’s Day, a name day. As his name day roughly coincided with Epiphany (the “thirteenth day of Christmas”), Knut’s Day and Epiphany were more or less conflated. In 1680, Knut’s Day was moved to 13 January and became known as tjugondag Knut or tjugondedag jul (the “twentieth day of Knut/Christmas”).


On Nuutinpäivä in Finland, there has been a tradition somewhat analogous to modern Santa Claus, where young men dressed as a goat (Finnish: Nuuttipukki) would visit houses. Usually the costume was an inverted fur jacket, a leather or birch bark mask, and horns. Unlike Santa Claus, Nuuttipukki was a scary character (like Krampus ). The men dressed as Nuuttipukki wandered from house to house, came in, and typically demanded food from the household and especially leftover alcoholic beverages. In Finland the Nuuttipukki tradition is still alive in Satakunta, Southwest Finland and Ostrobothnia. However, nowadays the character is usually played by children and is rather mild and playful.

A proverb from Noormarkku says: Hyvä Tuomas joulun tua, paha Knuuti poijes viä or “Good [St.] Thomas brings the Christmas, evil Knut takes [it] away.”

Christmas tree plundering (Swedish: Julgransplundring) is a tradition in Sweden on St. Knut’s Day, marking the end of the Christmas and holiday season. It is also known as “Dancing out Christmas” (Dansa ut julen) or “Throw out the Tree” (Kasta ut granen). It is mentioned in the Old Farmer’s Almanac that “King Knut asked them for help to drive out Christmas”. In traditional Swedish agrarian society, children would run from farm to farm to “call out Christmas” (ropa ut julen), that is call out that Christmas had ended and beg for food and drink.


The present day tradition has changed very little since the 1870s. During the 20th century, Christmas tree plundering became mainly associated with children and candy. The observance of the feast peaked during the period 1950–70. In private homes, there is often a party primarily for children. The Christmas decorations are then put aside. Such parties are also common in schools, kindergartens, churches and other places. In many towns, the illumination of the public Christmas tree is switched off, accompanied by an outdoor Christmas tree plundering for the community. In some areas the feast is known as Julgransskakning (“Shaking the Christmas tree”).


Party activities involve singing and dancing around the Christmas tree, “looting” the tree of ornamental candy and apples, smashing the gingerbread house into pieces and eating it, opening Christmas crackers that have been used as decorations on the tree, lotteries, creating a fiskdamm (“fishing pond”) where children “fish” for toys and candy, or a treasure hunt. The songs and dances are essentially the same as those performed at Christmas and Midsummer with some additions of songs about the end of Christmas such as Raska fötter springa tripp, tripp, tripp:


During the 20th century, Christmas trees were literally thrown out of the window or from the balcony, on to the street once they had been “plundered” and stripped of all ornaments. Since the beginning of the 21st century, areas for dumping the trees are designated by local authorities but even by 2015, spontaneous and illegal dumping grounds were still a problem. Some customs die hard.

I like the idea of smashing the Christmas gingerbread house and eating it. Getting rid of my gingerbread house was always tough. I put a great deal of effort into it 30 years ago. It started off reasonably simply using a commercial template with a basic gingerbread recipe. But in the process my wife got so carried away with the decorating that we did not want to eat it or discard it. So we kept it until the next Christmas . . . then the next. But it was getting tattered by then, so we threw it out in the woods where it was descended upon by birds and wild animals within minutes of leaving it. Next year we built a barn replete with marzipan farm animals. Then I went completely mad the next year making a replica of Caernarvon castle including an array of knights on horseback. After that I settled for a few gingerbread cookies as a token.

xmas6 xmas9 xmas8

LONDON - DECEMBER 04: A gv of a gingerbread Houses of Parliment and London Eye creation by Chef Beate Woellstein at the Grosvenor House Hotel on December 4, 2007 in London, England. The creation is 2.5 diameters and used 50 kilos of gingerbread dough. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Here’s my standard recipe for gingerbread to make a house. For a simple house this will be enough. For more elaborate displays you’ll need several batches.



250g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
7 tbsp golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger


Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger in a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a little water.

Chill overnight.

Heat the oven to 390°F/200°C

Roll the gingerbread out to about ¼ inch (6mm) thick on baking parchment. Using a template, cut out the house components and remove all excess (which you can re-roll).

Bake on the parchment on cookie sheets for about 12 minutes. It may still be a bit soft after this time, but will harden on cooling. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Assemble the house using stiff icing sugar. Then decorate as you wish.

Apr 302014


Today is Walpurga’s Night or May Eve, the day before May Day. In this case “night” really does mean night, but “eve” signifies the day and night before, and not just the night before, although the waning hours are the most important. The word “eve” is confusing nowadays because it seems to mean “evening,” but it does not. Rather, it means “verge of,” hence, it can refer to the whole day. Many, many important festivals have events associated with their eve, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve being the most obvious. Often the eve of a saint’s day is concerned with some form of prognostication (see Eve of St Agnes, 20 Jan.). Others are times when the normal world order is temporarily suspended and, because of this, mystical beings have a chance to appear to mortals. All Hallows Eve (Hallowe’en) springs to mind (not coincidentally, 6 months from May Eve). Some of these customs have faded in the modern era, victims of the needs of industrialism and the general disenchantment of the world. But Walpurga’s Night survives in a great many countries in northern Europe.



In the mid to late 20th century many movements sprang up based on the belief that European folk customs, such as those associated with May Day, are survivals of ancient pagan (pre-Christian) ceremonies. Such belief is almost entirely founded on 19th century British and German social anthropology which was dominated by, and fed, the Romantic Movement. The most well known figure now from this era is Sir James George Fraser whose Golden Bough was, and is, extremely influential. But he had a slew of contemporaries such as Andrew Lang (famous in his day for his Fairy Books), and Edward Burnett Tylor who coined the term “survivals” for folk customs. These scholars have faded in importance in the academic world because their theories were deeply flawed, and based on shaky, or zero, primary evidence, that is, written documents from ancient times. Primary evidence simply does not exist in most cases, and we cannot construct robust theories with no data (although there seems to be an endless stream of people willing to try). We can categorize their work nowadays as wishful thinking. But, let me be clear. If you want to do all kinds of mystical things on May Eve, that’s just fine with me. The disenchantment of the modern world, that is, the loss of mystery in the popular mind in favor of the pragmatics of modern science and technology, is just dreadful. I celebrate everyone who wants to get dressed up, or drink too much, or cavort around a bonfire, or sing raucously, or whatever on May Eve. Done it all myself at one time or another. What gets my hackles up as a scholar who has spent decades in dusty archives researching old documents (I have two file cabinets stuffed with notes and photocopies), is the notion that these customs have their roots in the deep dark mysteries of pagan Europe. Show me the evidence and I will believe you. It does not exist.

I also want to point out that there are two quite distinct sets of customs associated with 1 May in Europe which tend to get muddled these days: the Celtic festival of Beltane, and the northern European/Germanic celebration of May Day. Obviously they are both spring festivals and so, naturally, share elements. But the central ethos of each is quite different. Maybe next year I’ll focus on Beltane. This year May Day holds sway.

The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it or have celebrated it, named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga (c.710–777/9). Because Walpurga was canonized on 1 May (c. 870), she became associated with May Day, especially in northern Europe. The eve of May Day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, came to be known as Walpurga’s night (Walpurgisnacht in German and Dutch, Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish, Vappen in Finland Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö, (Walpurgi öö) in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian,Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, čarodějnice and Valpuržina noc in Czech). In most of these countries Walpura’s Night celebrations have lapsed, are minor, or have transformed into different events. For example, in Germany there are still a few places where people play pranks and light bonfires, but in the big cities it is usually used as an occasion for left wing groups to rally in preparation for May Day. Finland and Sweden, however, still have major festivities.


In Finland, Walpurga’s Night/Day (Vappu) is one of the four biggest holidays along with Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and Midsummer (Juhannus). There are huge carnival-style festivals held in the streets of Finland’s towns and cities. The celebration, which begins on the evening of 30 April and continues to 1 May, typically centers on copious consumption of sima (recipe below), sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, particularly those of the engineering students, are one of the main characteristics of Vappu. Since the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper-class feast has been appropriated by university students. Many lukio (university-preparatory high school) graduates (who are, thus, traditionally assumed to be university bound), wear a cap. It is common to eat freshly cooked funnel cakes (name) along with sima, a mildly alcoholic lemonade.

In Helsinki and its surrounding region, fixtures include the capping (on 30 April at 6 pm) of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biennially alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku, by engineering students of Aalto University. Both are juvenile; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often, the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages, such as sardine cans and milk cartons. For most university students, Vappu starts a week before the day of celebration. The festivities also include a picnic on 1 May, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner, particularly in Ullanlinnanmäki—and Kaisaniemi for the Swedish-speaking population—in Helsinki city.


Valborgsmässoafton bonfires are part of a Swedish tradition dating back to the early 18th century. In Southern Sweden, an older tradition, no longer practiced, was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight. These were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task was to be paid in eggs.

Choral singing is a popular pastime in Sweden, and on Valborgsmässoafton virtually every choir in the country is busy. Singing traditional songs of spring is widespread throughout the country. The songs are mostly from the 19th century and were spread by students’ spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, such as Uppsala and Lund, where undergraduates, graduates, and alumni gather at events that last most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30th, or siste april (“The Last Day Of April”) as it is called in Lund, or sista april as it is called in Uppsala. For students, Valborgsmässoafton heralds freedom. Exams are over and only the odd lecture remains before term ends. On the last day of April, the students wear their characteristic white caps and sing songs of welcome to spring, to the budding greenery and to a brighter future.

In Uppsala, since the mid-1970s, students honor spring by rafting on Fyrisån through the center of town with rickety, homemade, in fact quite easily wreckable, and often humorously decorated rafts. Several student groups also hold “Champagne Races” (Champagnegalopp), where students go to drink and spray champagne or somewhat more modestly priced sparkling wine on each other. The walls and floors of the old nation buildings are covered in plastic for this occasion, as the champagne is poured around recklessly and sometimes spilled enough to wade in. Spraying champagne is, however, a fairly recent addition to the Champagne Race. The name derives from the students running down the downhill slope from the Carolina Rediviva library, toward the Student Nations, to drink champagne.

In Linköping, the students and public gather at the courtyard of Linköping Castle. Spring songs are sung by the Linköping University Male Voice Choir, and speeches are made by representatives of the students and the university professors.

In Gothenburg, the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers University of Technology, is an important part of the celebration. It is seen by around 250,000 people each year. Another major event is the gathering of students in Trädgårdsföreningen to listen to student choirs, orchestras, and speeches. An important part of the gathering is the ceremonial donning of the student cap, which stems from the time when students wore their caps daily and switched from black winter cap to white summer cap.

In Umeå, there is a tradition of having local bonfires. During recent years, however, there has been a tradition of celebrating Valborgsmässoafton at Umeå University. The university organizes student choir songs, there are different types of entertainment and a speech by the president of the university. Different stalls sell hot dogs, candies, soft drinks, etc.

For Walpurga’s Night here are two traditional Finnish recipes, sima and tippaleivät (funnel cakes).




1 gallon water
3 large lemons
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar plus sugar for bottles
¼ tsp yeast
25 raisins


Bring the water to a steady boil. Meanwhile, use a lemon zester or a potato peeler to remove the outer yellow rind of 2 of the lemons in strips, placing these in a large glass or plastic (non-metal and heat-proof) container. Peel or trim off the bitter inner white rind of the lemons and discard. Slice the lemons and place in the container with the zest, adding brown and white sugar.

Once the water boils, pour it into the container with the lemons and sugar. Let it cool to lukewarm, then stir in yeast. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours, or until the surface begins to bubble.

Strain the liquid into clean glass bottles, quart jars, or plastic containers.

Slice the remaining lemon and add the slices plus 5-6 raisins and 1 teaspoon of sugar to each bottle. Seal tightly and refrigerate for 2-5 days, or until the raisins float.

Keep refrigerated and serve cool.

Yield: 4 quarts (about 20 servings).





2 eggs
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
oil for frying


In a heavy pot or deep fryer, bring cooking oil to 375°F/190°C.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar lightly, then stir in the milk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir until you have a smooth batter. Work quickly because once the liquid is added the baking powder is active.

Transfer the batter to a pastry tube with a small tip, or improvise with a freezer bag with the top sealed and a small holed snipped from one corner.

When the oil is hot, use one hand to dip a metal ladle in the oil until it is half filled. With your other hand quickly pipe the batter in a swirled, criss-crossed pattern into the ladle to make a bird’s nest. Lower the ladle completely into the oil. The fritter should immediately float to the top of the fryer. Allow the fritter to turn golden on the bottom and then flip it over with a slotted metal spoon to brown on the other side.

Remove the fritter with a slotted spoon and drain on a wire rack. You can work in small batches of 2 or 3 at a time. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Mar 162014


Today is the feast of St Urho, an invented saint who is supposedly the Finnish version of St Patrick.  I hope you see the humor in it all.The legend of Saint Urho was the invention of a Finnish-American named Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota in spring of 1956. Mattson later recounted that he invented St. Urho when he was questioned by coworker Gene McCavic about the Finns’ lack of a saint like the Irish St. Patrick, whose feat of casting the snakes out of Ireland is remembered on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, the patron saint of Finland is Henry (Bishop of Finland).

According to the original “Ode to St. Urho” written by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson, St. Urho was supposed to have cast “tose ‘Rogs” (those frogs) out of Finland by the power of his loud voice, which he obtained by drinking “feelia sour” (sour whole milk) and eating kala mojakka (fish soup).

Ode to Saint Urho
by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson
Virginia, Minnesota

Ooksi kooksi coolama vee
Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds.
Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen
Braffest Finn I effer seen
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes
Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia sour
Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.
Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles
What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay
On Sixteenth of March, St. Urho’s Tay.

The original “Ode to St. Urho” identified St. Urho’s Day as taking place on May 24. Later the date was changed to March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. St. Urho’s feast is supposed to be celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green. Other details of the invented legend also changed, apparently under the influence of Dr. Sulo Havumäki, a psychology professor at Bemidji State College in Bemidji, Minnesota. The legend now states that St. Urho drove away grasshoppers (rather than frogs) from Finland using the incantation “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!” (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!”), thus saving the Finnish grape crops. Another version of the modern celebration of St. Urho’s Day is that it was created by Kenneth Brist of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Brist, a high school teacher, was teaching in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early to mid-1950s in an area largely populated by people of Finnish heritage. He and his friends concocted March 16 as St. Urho’s Day so that they had two days to celebrate, the next day being St. Patrick’s Day.


The designation of St. Urho as patron saint of the Finnish is particularly humorous because 82.5% of the Finnish population is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, which does not recognize Feasts of Saints. Brist promoted the “annual cancellation” of the St. Urho’s Day Parade in Chippewa Falls with advertisements in the Chippewa Herald Telegram and by teaching his high school students about the legend of St. Urho. The “Ode to St. Urho” has been modified to reflect these changes in the feast day and legend. The Ode is written in a self-parodying form of English as spoken by Finnish immigrants known as Finnglish. There is also a “Ballad of St. Urho” written by Sally Karttunen.

Ballad of St Urho
Finnglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of Kuka Sen Saunan Lämmitää

St. Urho was a Finnish lad,
A blue eyed, blond hair poika,
St. Urho, bashful suomalainen
Ate grapes and kala mojakkaa.

He chased those big green bugs away,
“Heinäsirkka, mene pois!”
He said it loudly, just one time —
Tose ‘hoppers had no choice!

And so the Finns are here right now,
To celebrate Dear Urho,
And sing and dance in temperatures…..
It’s always way ‘plo zero!

Then in snowbanks deep and rivers iced,
To our saunas we will go, oh!
Cuz’ Urho is our hero, now,
As all good Finns must know!


St Urho’s Song
Finglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of: Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

St. Urho, little Finnish lad,
A blond haired lad, a blue eyed lad,
St. Urho, bashful Finnish lad,
Chased ‘tos grasshoppers ‘vay,

An tats vhy Finns still ‘member him,
And tans wid him and sing wid him,
An tats why Finns eat grapes wid him,
An haf dat Urho’s Tay!

[Brief note on the Finnish language: Finnish has several fewer consonants than English. Missing are B, C, D, and G. Consequently there are no sounds for those letters, and B becomes P, C becomes S or K, D becomes T, and G becomes K. When Finnish rally drivers talk about transmission problems with their cars, they refer to it as a “kearpox”. There are also no definite or indefinite articles in Finnish sentence structure — “the,” “a,” or “an” are not part of Finnish grammar.]

The selection of the name Urho as the saint’s name was probably influenced by the accession of Urho Kekkonen to the presidency of Finland in 1956. Urho in the Finnish language also has the meaning of hero or simply brave. There were several Finnish names suggested, but Saint Ero or Saint Jussi, or even Toivo or Eino, just didn’t have the correct ring of a saintly name.

There are St. Urho fan clubs in Canada and Finland as well as the U.S., and the festival is celebrated on March 16 in many American and Canadian communities with Finnish roots. The original statue of St. Urho is located in Menahga, Minnesota. Another interesting chainsaw-carved St. Urho statue is located in Finland, Minnesota. There is a beer restaurant called St. Urho’s Pub in central Helsinki, Finland. A 2001 book, The Legend of St. Urho by Joanne Asala, presents much of the folklore surrounding St. Urho and includes an essay by Richard Mattson on the “birth” of St. Urho.


On March 16, 1999 in Kaleva, Michigan a large Metal Sculpture of a Grasshopper was Dedicated in honor of St. Urho’s day. Kaleva is a community settled by Finnish Immigrants in 1900. In fact Kaleva is named after the Kalevala, the Epic Finnish story about the Creation of the Earth. Many places with mixed populations of Finnish and Irish have an annual St. Urho’s day event on the night before St. Patrick’s Day. Butte, Montana holds such a celebration each March 16.


Was St. Urho a Failure? According to the website they recently received a book that indicates the grasshopper population in Finland is thriving. The book is titled Suomen heinäsirkat ja hepokatit (The Grasshoppers and Crickets of Finland) by  Sami Karjalainen. It is 200 pages long full of color photos of Finnish grasshoppers. The book also includes a CD with grasshopper calls.


Urho grew strong on fish soup so here is my version of the Finno-American classic kala mojakka. It is a fairly generic creamed white fish soup flavored with thyme and dill. I made this today making enough for 2 because I live alone and don’t want to be eating fish soup for a week.

©Kala mojakka


1 medium sized potato, peeled and sliced
9 ozs/250g firm white fish fillet, preferably perch, pike, or trout
1 tbsp butter
1 leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch thyme
salt and white pepper
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
2 tbsps heavy cream (optional)
1 tbsp fresh dill


Bring 4 cups of salted water to the boil, add the potatoes, and simmer until they are soft.  Use a slotted spoon to remove them and reserve.

Keeping the water on simmer, add the fish and poach until barely cooked through (about 8 minutes).  Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and reserve along with the potatoes.  Reserve the cooking liquid in a bowl.

Melt the butter in the pot and add the onion, leek, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and sauté until soft. Add the flour and mix well to combine, forming a blond roux. Add one cup of the cooking water, stirring well to avoid lumps. Then add plus 2 cups milk (plus cream if used). Simmer for 15 minutes.

Flake the fish and add it and the potatoes and dill 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Check seasonings and serve with buttered crusty bread.

Serves 2

Jun 092013

Aland map   aland-islands

Today is Autonomy Day in Åland (or the Åland Islands), a demilitarised, monolingually Swedish-speaking, self governing region of Finland consisting of an archipelago lying at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. The location of Åland makes it of major strategic importance for military operations in the Baltic, and therefore its sovereignty has changed hands several times since the eighteenth century.  Prior to 1809 Åland was part of the territory of Sweden, but Sweden ceded the islands, along with Finland, to Russia after being decisively defeated during the Napoleonic Wars. Subsequently Åland became part of the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. In 1832 the Russians built the great fortress, Bomarsund, in Åland to protect its interests in the Baltic, but it was destroyed by the combined British and French fleets during the Crimean War.  The peace treaty that ended the war declared that the islands should be demilitarized.  However, the Russians built a submarine base there in 1914.  After the October revolution of 1917, Finland declared independence from Russia, and Åland attempted to reunite with Sweden as part of the deal, given that almost all of the population spoke Swedish and thought of themselves as Swedish.  However, Sweden was preoccupied with its own internal political problems, and so Åland remained in Finnish hands until 1920 when Finland granted the islands the right to self governance (confirmed a year later by the League of Nations).

Åland consists of about 6,700 skerries (small rocky outcrops) and islands, 80 of which are inhabited.  Shipping has been an important component of the Åland economy for centuries, and, in fact, the last European port for commercial sailing vessels was located there.  Islanders used sail power long after the rest of Europe had converted to steam for powering sea vessels. Fishing is also of great importance, and for centuries the export of fish, mostly to Sweden, was a main component of the economy (as well as exported timber from cleared agricultural lands).  In recent years the government has begun investing in aquaculture, such as mussel farming.  Sport fishing and sailing have also become important components of a growing tourist industry (and despite looks to the contrary, this post is not sponsored by the Åland tourist board – although I am open to offers).

The islands are rocky with thin, but rich, chalk/clay soils which allow a wide variety of farming activities.  Farming has supported the islanders since the Neolithic (New Stone Age), starting roughly 4,000 years ago. For 3,000 years before that the inhabitants were foragers, living off fish, hunted small game, and gathered grains and berries.  Rye was the principal cereal grown until the end of the nineteenth century because of its tolerance for cold weather.  In the eighteenth century cold weather root crops such as potatoes and turnips were introduced.  Nowadays there is an abundance of certain fruits, most especially apples and berries, and, more recently, pears.  Naturally sheep thrive in the rockier lands unsuitable for agriculture, and flocks are left to roam and graze on many of the uninhabited islands.  There are also large herds of dairy cattle supporting a well established butter and cheese industry for export. There is a strong move towards green farming, and now a significant percentage of electricity is produced on the islands through wind power — decreasing dependence on undersea cables from the mainland.

Weddings on the islands until the 1920’s were three day affairs of song, dance, food, and drink.  Nowadays they are recreated (in miniature) for tourists. The one pictured here shows people in what is now considered national dress, although these were invented in the late nineteenth century – but shhhh!! – don’t tell anyone — ALL “traditional” costumes in Europe were invented in that time period (or later). The main festival on the islands is Midsummer (June 21) although these days maypoles and traditional dances have been replaced with rock bands.

Much of Åland cuisine has its roots in the cooking of Sweden and Finland, with influences from Russia and France.  But there are two items that are considered classics of Åland:  Ålandskt Svartbrod, a dense dark brown bread made of rye flour, malt, and molasses, and Åland pancakes. These pancakes are more of a pudding than what we usually think of as pancakes, made of a base of semolina (cream of wheat), and eggs which is baked, then topped with fresh fruit or fruit “cream” (more traditional), and sometimes whipped cream.

Åland Pancakes


4 cups  (9.5 dl) milk
1/3 cup (1.6 dl) semolina
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
½  (1.5 dl) cup sugar
7/8 cup (2 dl) flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons (.5 dl) butter, melted

Åland prune cream (see below)
fresh whipped cream


Bring the milk with the salt to a slow boil and add the semolina in a steady stream whilst whisking until thoroughly combined.

Cook at a low heat for approximately 10 minutes while occasionally stirring.

Set aside to cool.

When cooled, pour the cream of wheat into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, sugar, flour, cardamom, and vanilla, and stir to make a smooth batter.

Line a 9″ (23 cm) round baking dish with parchment or greaseproof paper. Brush the paper with melted butter.

Pour the batter into the baking dish and cook at 390°F (200°C) for 30 to 45 minutes until golden brown.

Serve warm in slices topped with prune cream and whipped cream.

Serves 4-6

Åland Prune Cream


15 pitted prunes cut in quarters
4 cups (9.5 dl) water
1 cup (2.3 dl) prune juice
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup (1.5 dl) sugar
2 tbsp (.3 dl) cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp (.5 dl) water

Soak the prunes for 1 hour in the water in a saucepan.

Add the prune juice and cinnamon stick and bring to a slow boil.

Add the sugar slowly whilst stirring to dissolve, then remove from the heat.

Give the water and cornstarch mixture a quick whisk and add it to the prune mixture.

Return the pot to the stove and bring to a gentle boil.

As soon as the mixture thickens remove from the heat.

Discard the cinnamon stick and let cool.

Yield: 3 cups