Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Finnish Domestic Life and Special Occasions

Because of the country’s many rivers and streams, electrical power is used all over Finland, even in country barns. But wood and coal continue to be the common fuel for heating and cooking. Ruisleipa is still baked in brick oven – several times a week in eastern Finland, where the softer loaf is preferred, but sometimes only twice a year in western Finland, where the thin hard bread is preferred. The latter version is punched with a hole then hung on long poles to dry. It can be stored for months.

The most important room in the country house is the tupa. It is a combination living room and kitchen, typically with scrubbed wooden floors, wooden furniture and hand woven mats, table linen, and curtains. The important and often huge brick oven for baking bread is built into one wall of the house and the bread is placed inside and removed with a large wooden paddle.

Preferring fresh fruits and vegetables, urban home-makers shop frequently, but everyone makes preserves of berries and pickles of vegetables such as beets and cucumbers. All Finns have a strong preference for simplicity in their foods, enjoying the natural taste of wild berries and mushrooms, while fish and meats are frequently flavored only with salt or smoke. Although the sauna is primarily a bathhouse, legs of lamb and sides of bacon and ham are often smoke-cured there; quick post-sauna snacks of sausages are often grilled over a small fire and enjoyed there with Kalja, the light Finn beer.

Religious freedom prevails in Finland today. The Evangelical Lutheran Church claims a membership of 95 percent of the Finnish population while only 2 percent belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Christmas, Easter, and May Day are the main festivals but the Finns are also much affected in their mood and social life by the seasons. The long dark days of winter, relieved only by visitors or special family occasions, seem to cause a cloud of solemn quiet to fall over daily life. Even alcohol consumption increases dramatically in an effort to dispel the national winter depression.

The joyousness of the first of May (May Day) is celebrated with singing and dancing and a great sense of communal relief that the end of winter is in sight. Sima, the tangy fermented lemon drink, is served everywhere to happy visitors and even on the street together with the crispy-fried tippaleipa.

Midsummer Day, though less exuberant than May Day, is celebrated with special menus featuring fresh cheeses. Happy parties with crayfish feasts and sleepless nights during late spring and summer celebrate “the time of the long days” or Pithia Paivia when the lingering mysterious Northern Lights add their special quality to the festivities.

Christmas is celebrated on December 24 with church services and a festive meal of well-cooked vegetable casseroles, lutefisk or lipeakala (the specially prepared salt cod dish), baked ham, garnished with dried fruits, and a creamy rice pudding. Later in the evening cookies and coffee are enjoyed while Santa Claus gives gifts to the children.

At Easter, a buffet is centered around a display of home-baked yeast breads. The most famed of these is the paasiaisleipa, of Karelian origin. Redolent with cardamom and chewy with nuts and candied fruits, it is baked in a high round tin that bears a striking resemblance to the Russian kulitch. From the rich spring butter and creams come the special cheeses that are served on the Easter buffet as well. One of the oldest traditional Easter dishes is served either as a pudding or a beverage depending on the area. Easter mammi is prepared from a mixture of molasses, water and rye flour flavored with raisins and orange peel, and the pudding version is traditionally baked in baskets.

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