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The foods of Finland. A Finnish-style farm breakfast

By Nita Kurmins GilsonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 9, 1987



Joensuu, Finland

AUNA Martikainen doesn't mess around. As the sturdy blond farm wife comes out to greet her tardy guests, she informs us that if we had not arrived in the next 10 minutes, the farm hands were going to start eating because they were famished.

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We follow Mrs. Martikainen and her husband Mikko up to their long bungalow-type house that sits on a small rise overlooking the postcard-green eastern Finnish countryside.

Once inside their pine and birch paneled home, Mrs. Martikainen quickly gets her meal preparation back on schedule.

She works efficiently at her massive masonry oven made of soapstone, a material indigenous to eastern Finland. Her thick blond braid swings about as she slides dishes in and out of the cookstove to the table.

Soon she has produced enough to feed our small army of 12 at least two times over. And like good soldiers, we begin the hearty country breakfast, or aamianen, traditionally eaten around 10 or 11 a.m. The portions are big enough to keep workers going until early evening. Seconds and thirds are part of the program.

As is customary, Mrs. Martikainen does not sit with us during the delicious meal of salad, pork shops with scallions and brown sauce, rutabaga casserole, Karelian piirakkaa, homemade rye bread, and cranberry pudding.

Instead, like a general she surveys the situation from a rocking chair a few feet away, mentally checking off what each person eats and how much. When one young (and rather thin) man tries to excuse himself before dessert, he is promptly put in his place with a few salient words from our high-cheekboned hostess.

Finnish food, typically heavy and bland, is saved from being boring because all the ingredients are very, very fresh.

In our case, the scallions and all the vegetables are from the Martikainen family's garden, the pork is from a nearby farm, and the bread is baked every other day.

The Martikainens live on a small dairy farm with their three children: Riika, Tapani, and Arja. They lease the rest of their 200 wooded acres as a tree farm. They have only two extra hands during the summer; the rest of the year they do all the work themselves.

Mrs. Martikainen says she, unlike many farmers wives nowadays, is not afraid of manual labor. Indeed, this farmer's daughter and one of 14 children seems to be the last of a dying breed - an honest-to-goodness country ``superwoman.'' In addition to rearing children, raising and preparing her own food, baking bread, sewing clothes and curtains, she weaves beautiful rugs and wall hangings in her ``spare time.''

Nonetheless, she worries that she can't do as much as she used to. ``When I turn 40, my husband may trade me in for two hard working 20-year-olds,'' she jokes.

It's doubtful many 20-year-olds could keep up with her.

Here are two recipes from a typical Finnish country meal, taken from ``The Finnish Cookbook,'' by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. Rutabaga Casserole 2 medium rutabagas, peeled and diced (about 6 cups) 1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs 1/4 cup cream 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon salt 2 eggs, beaten 3 tablespoons butter

Cook rutabagas until soft (about 20 minutes) in salted water to cover. Drain and mash. Soak the bread crumbs in the cream and stir in the nutmeg, salt, and beaten eggs. Combine with the mashed rutabagas. Turn into a buttered 21/2 quart casserole. Dot the top with butter, and bake in a 350-degree F. oven for 1 hour, or until lightly browned. Serves 6 or 8. Should be served with beef or pork.

Although we were served cranberry pudding, or compote, fruit soup is more typical of the type of dessert served in Finland and Scandinavia. Fruit Soup 1 pound mixed dried fruits (apricots, prunes, pears, and apples) 2 1/2 quarts water (10 cups) 4 sticks cinnamon 1 cup sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch 2 tablespoons cold water whipped cream (optional)

Simmer dried fruits in water with cinnamon and sugar until fruits are tender (about 1 hour). Dissolve the starch in the tablespoons of cold water, bring the soup to boiling and stir in starch mixture. Cook, covered, until the soup has thickened and is clear. Cool with the cover on to prevent a skin from forming on top. Serve with whipped cream. Serves 8 to 10.