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