Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Cookbooks and Culture

I have a fairly large cookbook collection. I've been collecting cookbooks and recipes since I was a teenager. I have a box full of index cards of recipes I copied out of issues of Family Circle or Women's Day, about four feet of shelf space take up with back issues of various cooking magazines (Gourmet, Cooking Light, Saveur, Cook's Illustrated, Bon Appetit, and others). A quick and dirty count of my shelved books was somewhere around 135, running the gamut: French, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Greek, Vegan, Native American, books on bread, tapas, chicken, vegetables, seafood, books on baking, grilling, using a slow-cooker, books from celebrity chefs, famous restaurants, and midwestern church kitchens.

This year I received a few cookbooks as gifts for my birthday and Christmas. One book that I'm particularly excited about is one I received from my brother-in-law, Beatrice Ojakangas' Scandinavian Feasts. My father's side of the family are proud Finns, my great-grandparents Finnish immigrants, and it's a heritage I embraced enthusiastically. Having grown up in Minnesota, I am intimately familiar with Swedish and Norwegian cooking as well. One thing I've been missing in my cookbook collection is a Scandinavian cookbook. I've shied away from them myself because so often they focus on the Norwegians and Swedes almost exclusively.

I was very happy to receive this book and discover the author herself is Finnish and the book focuses on the Finns and the Danes in addition to the more common recipes for Jansson's Temptation, lefse, or fattigman. The book lays out each chapter as a menu, such as "Karelian Country Buffet" or "Snacks in the Finnish Sauna" and include things that I'm intrigued to try, like Karelian Rye-Crusted Pastries with Egg Butter (Karjalan Piirakka ja Munovoi) and Blueberry Cheesecake (Mustikkapiirakka). Many of the dishes and ingredients are things from my childhood, what I considered "Minnesotan" but clearly ran deeper with my family and neighbors than that: fresh fish and game, wild blueberries, rye breads and "hardtack", sliced meats and cheese and sausage. I look forward to taking a few of these recipes out for a test run, perhaps for a traditional brunch or a full on celebration like a May Day feast or Midsummer picnic.


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Anonymous Dr John K Says:

My experience was that Swedes didn't have a May Day feast as such--the festival is really more for Walpurgis (celebrated with monstrously large bonfires), whereas May Day is a day for singing the Internationale. Midsummer, however, is huge (think Thanksgiving, only with snaps or aquavit).

Blogger Nikchick Says:

Ah, but the Finns apparently love May Day (or Vappu). I lived in the shadow of the Swedish traditions for too long, it's all about the Finns for me now. Bwa ha ha ha!

Anonymous sushicat Says:

So Nikchick,

Have you made the Karajalan Piirakka from this book yet? I love that dish and want to know the recipe. I have found some recipes on the web and don't know if they are traditional or what I have tasted while travelling in Finland. Let us know if you have made the experience.


Blogger Nikchick Says:

I haven't tried it yet, but in the interest of science I resolve to do so soon. I will report back with the results.


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