The foods of Finland. Rich food reigns in the land of the piirakka

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THE low-calorie revolution has passed Eastern Finland by. In this land of milk and butter, the mention of light eating will probably draw blank stares.

The inhabitants of the southeastern tip of Finland, also known as Karelia, have had a staple diet of rich food for centuries.

This ancient cultural region is famous for its beautiful scenery, including the sole mountain range in Finland, for inspiring the composer Sibelius, and for producing wonderful breads and pastries.

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In fact, the Karelian piirakka, a thin, oval-shaped pie, is as ubiquitous in Finland as the hot dog is in the United States.

The heart of, and key to, Karelian baking is the masonry oven - a huge and efficient heating unit. Many of them have been in continuous use for over 150 years, and nothing quite tastes like bread baked in one of these ovens.

Rye is one of the few grains that can be harvested here, since Finland has an extremely short growing season. Hence rye is the primary flour used in almost all of this country's baked specialties.

The basic dough for the piirakka can be used for other savory pastries. Here are two recipes that use the same ingredients but different preparation methods. Basic Karelian Piirakka Crust: 1 cup water 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons melted butter, shortening, or salad oil 1 1/2 cups white flour 1 1/2 cups rye flour

Basting sauce: 1/2 cup hot milk 2 tablespoons melted butter

To make crust, mix water, salt, and butter in large bowl and add white flour. Beat until smooth.

Add rye flour and mix until well blended.

Turn dough onto floured board and knead until smooth (about 2-3 minutes).

Shape dough into roll about 2 inches in diameter, divide into 12 equal portions, and dust with flour.

Pat each into small round cake, roll out into circle about 6-8 inches in diameter, keeping shape as round as possible.

To fill, place 3-4 tablespoons of filling (recipe follows) on each round of dough and spread to within an inch of the edge.

Fold sides of dough over, leaving an inch or so of filling exposed. Crimp edges.

Place on greased baking sheet.

Bake in 450-degree F. oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned, basting twice during baking with milk-butter mixture.

Baste again upon removal of piirakka from oven. Cover with towel while piirakka is still hot, or wrap in foil. Serve hot or cold, with egg butter (recipe follows). Filling: 1 cup uncooked rice (not instant or quick-cooking) 1 teaspoon salt 6 cups milk 2 tablespoons butter

Combine rice, salt, and milk in top of double boiler. Cook over boiling water, stirring occasionally for 2 hours or until milk is absorbed and rice is creamy. Stir in butter. Cool.

This version of the piirakka has an interesting history. It was traditionally served when a young man would come courting.

The girl's mother would make these treats only if the suitor was found acceptable, so you can imagine how relieved he might have been when he heard the sounds of rolling pins and frying butter.

Butter Fried Piirakka or Keitin Piirakka Crust: Same as Basic Karelian piirakka

Filling: 3 cups fluffy cooked rice, seasoned with salt to taste 1/2 cup butter for frying

Make crust as directed and roll out in 6- to 8-inch rounds. Place 2 tablespoons filling in center of each round. Fold dough over to make a half circle. With pastry wheel trim edge, sealing the pastry.

In frying pan melt enough butter to cover bottom generously. Fry each piirakka for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Egg Butter 1 cup soft butter 3 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped Salt

Cream butter, blend in eggs, and add salt to taste. Fill a bowl with the mixture and let everyone help themselves.

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