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"Finland is the green vigour of a forest"

"Much Finnish cooking suggests the outdoors, the pleasures of the campfire." Dale Brown - Time/Life The Cooking of Scandinavia


Finland is the last of my Scandinavian countries in my nascent world tour of food. Although I am wondering whether to include the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, before heading East to Iceland.


But that's for another day. Today it's Finland, and I have to say that those two quotes above from my Time/LIfe book on Scandinavia seem to echo the sentiments of many of the other sources I have now consulted, and as my opening picture demonstrates.


Indeed one of the few things I know about Finland, are that there are lots and lots of lakes - and pine forests, which along with the fact that the language is related to Hungarian and is not Scandinavian, and that Aki Kaurismäki makes weird and wonderful films is just about all I know. I had a vague idea of it being somewhat oppressively ruled by Russia, and today have found that that is indeed the case - for 100 years, and another 600 under the Swedish thumb. Which has led to a cuisine containing elements of both of those nations as well as a cuisine based on the fruits of the land.


Not that the fruits of the land - until recent times included much agriculture as the land is harsh and the climate even harsher.


"in the harsh and cold environment, agriculture was neither a very effective nor secure way of life, so getting food from nature has often been an important secondary livelihood" Dale Brown


No - the fruits of the land are the beasts that roam the land, including bears and reindeer. On the right - sautéed reindeer, which is excluded from most national dish lists because it's considered to be too much of a local speciality of the Samì people from the north.


As well as the wild game, there are of course many varieties of fish and these do provide other contenders for the title - simply fried fish - a species called vendace mostly - coated in breadcrumbs, or salmon soup. They also have their own version of beluga caviar - the eggs from the burbot - an ugly fish but, so they say, delicious caviar.



Otherwise wild food is berries - lots of them - and mushrooms. Both of which are used extensively in their cooking. As to grown plants - barley and rye, tubers and roots such as potatoes, carrots and turnips, plus cabbage. Typical northern European cold country foodstuffs. Plain, but versatile.


Dale Brown of my Time/Life book claimed that:


"many of the country's dishes seem to have originated in the hands of men, or were cooked with men in mind."


and that:


"Much Finnish cooking suggests the outdoors, the pleasures of the campfire."


Which is partly true but not always. In 2017 a national poll for a national dish was held - and the winner was - Rye bread. Well why not - it looks utterly delicious and is apparently less sweet than Swedish bread.



However, having now read quite a few article on what to eat in Finland or what might be considered to be the national dish - I think there are maybe three others:


Karjalanpiirakka - which are these little open pies. Traditionally they were made with a filling of a barley kind of porridge, but these days it is more likely to be a rice porridge or mashed potatoes. Coincidence - not very far from the knish I talked about the other day. Carbs with carbs again, which is, if you think about it the cuisine of the poor around the world. Just a different shape from the knish really. A shape that one article describes as: "crescent shaped, resembling the arching lakes of Finland" They are then topped with egg butter - which is just butter mixed with hard-boiled eggs. As one writer said - "it ain't no gourmet recipe". The pastry, of course, has rye flour in the mix. I have to say that this was the dish that I saw most commonly nominated as the the national dish


The next most popular was Karjalanpaisti - Karelian hotpot - a second dish from the region of Karelia which is on the border with Russia - indeed the Karelians were expelled from Russia and settled in Finland - bringing their food with them. It's a simple stew - a mixture of meats:


"a simple stew of beef chuck, pork shoulder, possibly a few carrots, and seasoned with bay, pepper, and, a spice that pops up a lot in Finnish food, allspice" The Recovering Line Cook


And the last dish - Hernekeitto which is a green split pea soup with pork. Somebody said that this was traditionally eaten on Thursdays but I don't know why.


I'm struck a little by the similarities with various British dishes, but I guess that is is not really a surprise considering the similarities in climate. I suppose the main difference would be the lack of an aristocratic strain in Finland. The food seems to be almost exclusively based on the food of the poor.


Today of course, globalistion has meant that you can eat the same foods in Finland as you can anywhere else in the world and that high level Finnnish chefs are also experimenting with their traditional foods to make something new, but unique to their heritage. After all:


"the national dish of a country is a window into its soul, telling stories of the past, present and future through its flavours, aromas and textures. It's what locals grow up eating and travellers seek out to taste the essence of the country." Finland Food Menu


I wonder when food tourism became a phenomenon and restaurants began catering to that need?


POSTSCRIPT

I actually found some pickled cucumber in the back of my fridge and I did put them on last night's pizza. And people - they were good. A touch of tartness that, of course, went really well with the cheese and the cured meats. Try it some time.



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