Monday, April 5, 2010

Sacred Mämmi Finnish Easter Food

Mämmi is a traditional Easter dessert dish in Finland. The Swedish also eat it, but it is called Memma there. Although not seen so often on Easter postcards these days, in decades gone by it was quite favoured as an illustration of Finnish culture. I have dotted throughout this blog some vintage Mämmi postcards.

Mämmi is one of those dishes that you either love or you hate. Actually, I personally have not found many Finns who really love it, although I know they are out there!

I remember a few years ago, I was stood in the supermarket buying it for the second year on the trot. A Finnish man I knew was stood in line behind me and pointed out my Mämmi box in my trolley with excitement. 'Aha!' he said ' are buying our unique Mämmi! Have you tried it before?' I think that he thought I was trying it for the first time and didn't know what I was letting myself in for! He showed quite a shocked expression when I replied that Yes, I had certainly tried it before. 'Oh!.. Do you like it?' he asked further. When I said yes, he replied that I had truly become Finnish if I did! LOL.. However, when I asked him, if he liked it, he screwed up his face and said... 'Me? Oh no!' I don't like it at all! ROFL!!! The fact is that Mämmi is a bit of a cultural joke by product and that is mainly down to how it looks.

Mämmi, it has to be said, does not look nice at all. In fact it looks like the contents of something rather unsavoury connected with babies! :D Lets put it this way.. there is a joke that goes.. A foreigner is offered a bowl of Mämmi whereupon they are so shocked at the sight of it they blurt out: "You Finns, you seem to eat your food twice!" Hmmmm..... IF you can get past what it looks like and the feel of it in your mouth, then you will have made a large step into understanding Finnish culture and food habits! My best and nicest description would be that it looks like chocolate brown thick sticky and stodgy porridge!

Mämmi takes so long to prepare that few people bother to make it themselves these days. It is easier to go to the supermarket and buy it ready made! However, if you have the right ingredients and a fair dose of patience.. then you can make it yourself. I imagine that Finns that crave it and who live abroad simply have to do this... I cannot imagine it being on sale in any other country! If it is.. please tell me, I'd love to know!

Manufactured Mämmi is easily found in the shops during Easter, sold fresh or frozen. It is made from water, rye flour and powdered rye malt, seasoned with molasses, salt and dried orange peel, which has been ground to a powder. The mixture has a long slow, laborious cooking process, whereupon the contents naturally sweeten. It can take several hours to do and after baking in the oven, it should be chilled for up to four days! Then and only then, is it ready to eat. Hence why people just buy it from the shops!

Prior to the mass manufacture of Mämmi, home made versions were stored in rectangular containers crafted from weaved Tuohi, (Birch bark). These boxes were called Tuokkonen.

Finnish manufactures still remember these boxes in their presentation. Although the containers are now made of cardboard, the design is that of Birch tree bark. This year I noticed that individual mini portions were on the market also. In fact I sent a couple of those back to the UK, when my Mum returned. I wonder what they made of it! LOL!

Most people eat Mämmi cold and whilst it can be eaten as is... most Finns would encourage you to add some cream and sugar! Some people also eat it as a spread, set on top of bread. I don't fancy that myself. I keep it as a dessert. I have also read that some Finns mix the Mämmi into semi softened vanilla ice-cream and have Mämmi ice-cream - which doesn't sound so bad. Some also mix it with Maitorahka which is a curd cheese like Quark and have Mämmirahka, but I don't think I fancy that at all!

Mämmi lasts some time in my house, being that I am the only one that will actually eat it! I can't say that it is my most favourite dessert on the planet, but I do like to have some at Easter. You should see the lads faces when I am eating it. My elder son, turned to see me eating some yesterday and simply shook his head in disgust! LOL!

I am not alone in liking it though. The Finnish society Martat occasionally run food courses on how to make it. There is also a spring time beer containing Mämmi, (although Mämmi is probably only a small part of the process) Laitilan Kievari Mämmi - produces up to five versions. It's available via ALKO the government run monopoly alcohol shop of Finland. and it's like most things in Finland.. expensive at 3.94 euros per half litre bottle.

Mämmi was also highlighted in the last few years by a North African man, now a Finnish citizen - Ahmed Ladarsi, who first fell in love with it in the late 1970s when someone gave it to him as a joke. He created the first ever book of Mämmi, which tells of it's traditions and history, along with eighty - yes 80 recipes of his own! It is in Finnish of course but if you are interested, its ISBNs are ISBN-13: 9789524941709 and ISBN-10: 9524941708.

It is priced between 30-35euros. Yes, books are indeed horrendously expensive in Finland! I found this recipe (from his book) in this interesting Finnish recipe blog and it is in English for those curious enough to look! Note the name of the blog - Mämmi and Tuokkonen! I have to say, that I would NEVER have considered Mämmi for pizza!

Mämmi has however, been around for centuries, it has been claimed to have been eaten since the 13th century but definitely before the reformation and has certainly been discovered in 16th century Latin texts. Some scholars have said that it can be traced back to medieval Germany but that it came this far north on religious crusades.

Daniel Juslenius, a theology professor from Turku described Mämmi in the year 1700 "It is true that it has a blackish colour, but is unusually sweet and is eaten at Easter in memory of unleavened dough."

The method of making Mämmi has not changed much over the years as can be told from this guideline published in 1751 by Professor P. Gadd, also from Turku: "One part of rye flour, two parts ground rye malt, which sweeten in hot water, place in the Birch bark container and cook in the oven with mild temperature for 6-7 hours."

As an Easter food, it was originally eaten during Lent. Purification and purging were the required element in those days and Mämmi served its purpose two fold, in that it had a laxative effect on the consumer and kept long enough for them to not have to be cooking over Easter Friday, when many activities were banned. Lighting a fire was not Mämmi became the Easter bread. It's lack of acidity was favoured also.

If you would like to try making your own Mämmi, here is a recipe! Enjoy!

6 Litres Water
1/2 kg Rye Malt
1.5 kg Rye Flour
Molasses to taste
1-2 Teaspoon Salt
4 Tablespoons Grated orange rind/zest, previously dried and ground to a powder.

Mix 500g of Malt with 1 litre of tepid water and put a thick layer of Rye flour onto its surface. Cover and leave it in a warm place for two hours. Sift the remaining malt and flour together. Uncover the pot and mix thoroughly. Add 1 litre of boiling water. Cover the surface with another layer of the Malt-Flour mix. Cover again and leave the mixture in a warm place for an hour. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Finally add the salt and dried orange zest powder, boiling together for 10 minutes, stir well all the time. Give the mixture a final beating and fill the ovenproof container that the Mämmi will be served in. Bake at 150°c for three hours. Remove, cool and then refrigerate for a good couple of days.

Here endeth the Easter sermon on Finland's sacred Mämmi!

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Creative Activities for children...and adults!

Other than decorating Willow branches (vitsat), activities at Easter time in Finland, include painting or decorating with paper, empty chicken egg shells (Pääsiäismunat) etc.

is the favourite arts and crafts store here in Finland and the images shown of eggs are from their website. Often the eggs have been decorated by cutting up the very fancy paper serviettes we have here and glueing them on. Lovely!

You can view the Tiimari Easter brochure here. It's interactive, so you can turn the pages!

Children also like making easter figures of a rabbit (Pääsiäispupu) and chicks (Pääsiäistipu).. and believe it or not..they love growing grass!

Well, at this time of the year, especially up here in the Arctic, there is not much grass around.. only snow.. so growing your own, on the kitchen window sill, is the perfect opportunity to remind us of fresh growth. Special packets of grass are sold in most shops. When my Mum went back home after her recent holiday, I sent a packet back with her for my youngest niece to try. I bet they found it rather odd, especially as there is lots of grass everywhere in the U.K.

With the internet at the end of pretty much everyones fingers, this generation of young children can also play online Easter games, like this one.. where they can decorate a chick by deciding on the colour palette!

Click the link below to reach a larger version of this Easter image.. to print out and colour the old fashioned way! :D

Of course, Easter is not just for the children... creative adults will buy or make a wicker wreath and decorate it for their front door. They will decorate their homes with lots of fresh or even fake flowers, eggs etc.. its a favourite time of year for many. Here are a few examples, that I have found on the web.

I made one myself this year..filled with lots of beautiful pastel coloured feathers! I love it! It's on my front door! :D

I hope that these Finnish Easter ideas, might spawn some creativity in your house for what is left of this - or for the coming Eastertides....

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

The days of Finnish Easter week and old cultural beliefs

The Finnish Easter of yesteryear birthed many ancient and quirky customs, some that continue to this day. The whole week surrounding Easter, is one historically of religious remberance - of torment and suffering..but also with a healthy dose of pagan folklore and old Finnish culture. The so-called 'Quiet Week' was also called Kiirasviikko (The week of the Kiira) - see Thursday for more info. Each day of the week has it own particular name and custom. However these days, most modern Finns no longer observe these rituals and probably do not even know about them. These daily titles come from real days of yore!

Palmusunnuntai is Palm Sunday - which is the christian remembrance of Jesus riding to Jerusalem, with people cheering, taking his hand and walving palm branches along his path. This celebration has left a legacy with the Virpominen willow boughs as described in my last blog. Spring Willow branches symbolise the victory from death and also new life. This stems even from pre-christian paganism.

Malkamaanantai is Easter Monday. Milk is the subject of the suffering Christ, the time of Jesus's arrest in Gethsemane and St. Peter's denial. In Finnish folklore, if sheep were sheared on Easter Monday it was said that their wool would grow abundantly. This also was said to be true for girls that cut their hair that day.. that it would grow faster. How the two link... I do not know!

Tikkutiistai is Easter Tuesday (although it literally translates as stick tuesday!) Why? Well, because people used to carve special Spring sticks like matches, to burn in the Easter fires for good luck on that day and the forthcoming year. These matches could also be set along the slots in the wall to prevent any evil trolls (trulli in Finnish) from entering the house. Religiously, this day remembers Jesus and Pilate in front of the Council.

Kellokeskiviikko is Easter Wednesday (translating as Bells Wednesday) because bells were put on cattle as protection, to scare away any possible evil energy that visited at Easter. This day also remembers Jesus' condemnation.

Kiirastorstai is Easter Thursday (and technically it is Cleaning Thursday) although also Holy or Maundy Thursday. The name of Cleaning Thursday originates from the Bible incident where Jesus washed his disciples' feet on his last Thursday. However, in Finnish folklore the people of Finland believed that the Kiira was a malicious spirit with a playful nature, that lived in the house and yard - which could face expulsion on the cleaning day. Therefore this day would be also be a time to make lots of noise whist cleaning, so that evil spirit would go away and stay away. I think the Kiira would be known as a Brownie spirit to those in the UK.

Good Friday is known in Finland as Pitkäperjantai (which literally translates as Long Friday!) is the day that Jesus' suffering, crucifixion and death are remembered. In the old days it would be a fasting day also.

Easter Saturday is known as Lankalauantai (Thread Saturday). This day remembers Jesus in the grave and the grave itself. Folklore held the belief that all the evil forces were on the move on this day and there was some element about Witches harrassing goodfolk with twisted yarns - hence it's name. Spinning was prohibited.

These two days in old folkore were apparently classified as the worst possible days of the year! This was especially probably the case for children who lived in some parts of western Finland, because the tradition was that they were whipped at dawn on Good Friday in remembrance of Christ's suffering! How awful! Glad that one stopped!

Belief was that this was when evil was afoot, because Jesus was in his tomb at that time and evil was free to do as it wished. In really old days, no one did anything on these days. They did not light a fire, cook, visit friends or family.. or even leave their homes for a second. However they would set and light many large bonfires in advance of these days, left to burn in remote areas, by the edge of rivers etc.. to enchant the evil away from populated areas. They also observed a rule to not eat forbidden foods such as milk and cream - I presume because of Malkamaanantai, when Milk was the significant object portraying the suffering of Jesus.

Pääsiässunnuntai (Easter Sunday) also known as Pälkkä-pääsiäinen, brought some relief I expect... and yet it too came with its own omens and form of divination for the coming year. It was said that whatever creature or animal one saw on the morning of Easter, would be the same personality or trait that they would endure for the year. For example, if you saw a rabbit you would be fertile, a cow lazy, a horse strong, a fox cunning etc. Religion called for this to be the day when that curious Finnish food Mämmi would be eaten. Mämmi was classed, in generations gone by, as the non acid Easter bread. Jewish acidity had been a symbol of evil at that time, so the acidic removal from the Easter diet was then classed as important. These days Mämmi is kept purely as a dessert! (I will be running a blog on Mämmi soon!)

It was also believed that should the sun dance at dawn on the morning of Easter that the coming of spring could be celebrated along with the resurrection. People would go out and watch sunrise from as high a spot as possible. This is the day for eating Easter foods such as Mämmi, Pasha and chocolate, especially in the form of eggs (known for celebrating new life for aeons!) that either the Easter Chicken/Cock or the Rabbit brings.

Easter Monday is called Toinen Pääsiäispäivä the second day of Easter, also known as Pääsiäismaanantai and the resurrection is celebrated also. Just like the friday, it is a general holiday.

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All content, unless otherwise noted, is © ArcticRainbow and may not be reproduced in any form without express permission from the author, except for credited links directly to articles or to the main site. (I don't bite...just ask!) :D