Us Finns, we are a humble nation. We rarely think that we should be proud of our accomplishments. We hush down people who are trying to tell us, that something we did is great or amazing! “It is nothing special” or “It is just something small like that”, “I don’t know, I just made it”. This is what you will face if you try and compliment someone Finnish. That goes also when it comes to cooking. Many of us rather make things ourselves, rather than buy the ready made thing from a store. The self made thing might not be better or even cheaper, and definitely not easier, but we like it better never the less. The humbleness might be one of the reasons why nobody knows about Finnish food.
What do we need to understand when talking about Finnish cooking? There are some basic rules:
- Never go too fancy, stick to the character of the ingredient and don’t try to hide it away with strong seasoning or messing up the tastes. Keep in mind, that this does not need to mean boring.
- We like using the ingredients we can find from the nature surrounding us. Forests, lakes and fields offer a lot to eat. Every mans right guarantees that anyone, who wants and is able to do so, can pick their food from nature. Here you must remember, that we live high up north. Cultivating is sometimes difficult, and making the produce edible, sometimes requires imagination.
- Especially with traditional kitchen, the food preparing takes quite some effort. There is hardly anything that is possible to make in less than an hour.
- One of the key things is, that the food that is once made with great effort, needs to remain edible for long times. That goal has left us living with many pies and other pastry-wrapped things.
- Sweet stuff
- The desserts, pastries and cookies. They are from a totally different world.
So, key features are now on the table. Let me open them up.
Simplicity basically came to our cuisine thanks to the location of Finland, stretching on the both sides of the arctic circle. The only thing that grows up there, that can be given the name seasoning is onion and garlic. Still now, we see a lot of food seasoned only with onion, salt and pepper. Of course not the tastiest things you might be able to imagine. To find something great, you will have to go look deeper. Find a mother, grandmother, aunt, dad or granddad, someone who owns a well used cook book. Then you will find the skill, that uses ingredients with care and understands the nature behind them. Then there is no need for chili or abundance of herbs.
Try mixing beetroot and honey. Your kitchen will be covered in red, but you’ll have a taste bud awakening delight in your hands.
Naturalness goes quite far hand in hand with the simplicity. There is a lot of things in nature, that you can just pick and eat, no need for further preparing. A lot of Finns hunt mushrooms and berries. We even make things out of leaves and spruce sprouts. Outside the kingdom of plant life, fishing and hunting are too very much alive. Fish, coming straight out of the lake, being smoked the same day. tasty and just about as fresh as it can get. I spent the summers of my childhood running through the forests, hunting down boletes, chantarelles, and all kinds of berries. My moms mushroom salad with some garlic, onion and parsley, yummy!
Finnish people respect the nature, since it so clearly is our food giver. Hunters thank the nature, for giving the meat, fishermen never complain about the catch, to not make the gods angry. We still have festivities around harvest to show the gratitude towards nature.
During the summer months many of us also likes to eat in nature, or at least outside. BBQ and picnics are in huge demand.
Effortfulness is very present. Finnish food is no fast food. Preparing the best bread in the world, being rye bread, takes up to 3 days to prepare decently. The bread needs to get sour and to achieve that, the dough needs to stand. And then it is kneaded over and over again to achieve the correct texture. Certainly bread is not the only thing we place a lot of effort on. We might run around the woods for hours, to make a simple mushroom sauce or a berry pie.
Preserving food is one of the most visible traits of Finnish cuisine. The growing season of vegetables is short and the winter relatively long. So we need the food to stay edible for a long time too. Every fall people are stuffing their freezers and cellars with berries, mushrooms and vegetables.
The other part of food that stays fine for long times has a different history. Finland has always been a country of long distances. Especially during the times of no cars nor trains. People spent long times on the road and needed their supper also on the go. For that problem came the answer in the shape of pies, pastries and kalakukko (fish cock, weird, yes, but tasty. Ball of rye dough filled with fish and meat). Food closed in a crust is easy to take with you, and slow and long cooked produce stays resilient to bacteria. Means that the food is still tasty after a few days on the road, handy.
Sweet stuff, that’s my favorite part of this all. Finland is good at desserts. The cavalcade begins with pulla, of course. A bit like cinnamon roll, but you can find it in so many shapes, forms and sizes, you won’t believe your eyes. It is sweet pastry with a lot of sugar, butter, cinnamon and cardamom. Pulla offers us a base for other things, we combine the dough for sweet pies and doughnuts. If pulla is not enough for you, you’ll need to taste Piparkakku, Ginger bread wholly unique in Finnish style. Mainly served during Christmas time.
Nature plays a role also in desserts. We use berries and apples a lot, to make pies, jams, porridges (yes, in Finland porridge can be made out of berries and it is delicious, now shut up and eat your porridge!) and cakes. We also have mustikkakukko (blueberry cock, same thing as fish cock, but filled with blueberries). Even for sweet things, finns usually use salted butter. Gives a nice background for the other tastes, a contrast to sweetness.
Also, Finnish chocolate, we are too humble to be proud of it, but it is gooood!
Well, first of all, rye bread. We love our rye bread. There are tons and tons of different types of it, every part of Finland has their own style of bread. Others like it soft, some like to strengthen their jaws and make more chewy bread.
Potatoes. If a Finn can eat potatoes, he will eat potatoes. That is the key to our existence. We make bread out of potatoes, we eat potatoes with butter, with cream, mashed, jacketed, boiled or baked, whatever you can think of, we’ll eat it.
Mämmi, food that looks a bit like something a cow produced out on the field. So black, muddy thing, made out of prunes and rye flour. You can make it edible by adding a pile of sugar and hearty slurp of cream on top. Although there are people, who say, the cream spoils the dish entirely!
Salmiakki, that sometimes painfully salty “candy”. perfection with mixed with fruity wine gums.
Finland is also the highest consumer of coffee per capita, in the entire world. We have our moments for morning coffee, before lunch coffee, day coffee and 4 o’clock coffee. and all the coffees in between. It is stated in the law, that Finns need to have their coffee breaks at work too! Coffee is holy, enjoy it with pulla.
As always, there is a lot more to say, and maybe I’ll dig a bit deeper in the future. But at this moment, you’ll have to survive on this.