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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