Monday, October 18, 2010

The Finn in me

Heritage is something I don't think many people appreciate or find interesting until they are older. At least for me it wasn't. My family is predominately Finnish. My mom is 100% Finnish. Both my grandparents were as well. I grew up with several Finnish traditions, many of which I didn't know were based on my heritage until I was an adult. Perhaps, to some extent, you need to be raising the next generation before you start to embrace the generations preceding you.
My grandparents didn't teach the Finnish language to my mother and uncle, even though they spoke it fluently. They, just as their parents and grandparents before them who settled here and in Minnesota, felt it was important to be American, learn English, and move forward not clinging to the old country. They didn't demand that things be written in Finnish for their benefit or that people speak to them in Finnish. Were they disrespecting their heritage by doing so? Not at all. They were simply embracing the melting pot. Embracing America.
I won't ever consider myself a Finnish-American, or hang a Finnish flag in place of an American one. But I do want my kids to have a sense and understanding where many of our traditions and even some of our character traits (SISU!) come from.
On that note, I thought I'd share some of our Finnish traditions. I'm hoping to host a Heritage Fair with our homeschool group soon because I think it would be neat for all the kids to learn where other people come from and share recipes and traditions along the way.

My family's Pasty Recipe
There are several ways to make Pasty, and many Finns use different methods. In a proper pasty, the filling ingredients are not cooked before they are put in the pie casing. Here is my family's recipe, we make them every year during Pasty season (the fall) when rutabagas are available at the grocery store.

2 cups beef, cut into bite size chunks
2 cups pork, cut into bite size chunks
1 small onion, diced
1/2 of a rutabaga, peeled and cut-up
4 potatoes, peeled and cut-up
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper, or to taste

Split up all ingredients in half and layer them in order in a pie crust (see crust recipe below). Repeat the layers, potatoes on top. Cover with top crust, vent top with a knife or fork and bake in a 350-degree oven for approximately 1-1/2 hrs, checking after an hour.

Depending on the size of your meat and potato chunks, the time could vary by 20-30 minutes. If you poke a fork in the center, the potatoes shouldn't put up much of a fight. Serve dry or with Beef Gravy. (Saying "serve it with gravy" is actually something my grandma (and even my mom) would say "HOGWASH!" to, but my husband prefers it with gravy, so I overlook the abomination.)

Basic crust: 1-1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 3/4 cup Crisco, 9 tbs. cold water. Mix the flour, salt and shortening in a bowl by hand until it mostly balls into crumbs. Add 9 tbs. cold water and mix briefly with a fork. Form it into a ball of dough and divide it in half. Roll out each half with a rolling pin, liberally dusting the pin and surface with more flour.

The history behind the Finnish Pasty is interesting as well. Although there is a rivalry between the Finns and the Swedes as to who invented it. (Allow me to further set the record straight, it was the Finns!) At the very least, the Finnish immigrants especially here in Michigan and into the U.P., following the Cornish miners, were the ones who perfected it. They needed a way to keep their lunch hot in the mines and when gone to work for long hours away from home. My husband may not be a miner, but he does work building construction sites with no microwave and has to leave in the wees hours of the morning, so our Pasty tradition is just as handy today as it was in the late 1800's.

Grandma's Sauna

Invented by Finns, the Sauna (pronounced sow-na, (like cow with an s) not sana) is as natural to us as a shower... in fact my great aunts and uncles in Minnesota take one daily as they bathe. Functional daily saunas will have the cold water shower set up directly next to or even inside the sauna. My kids are still too young to experience the FULL heat of grandma's sauna, my mom has a beautiful 12 person sauna they'll be enjoying in the winter as they grow up. Nothing beats rolling in the snow in your bathing suit (or birthday suit) after opening all your pores up in a steaming hot sauna then going back in for round two. Some of my close friends have delighted in the experience over the years--ladling water onto the rocks to make the dry heat even hotter, drinking ice cold water to cool down your teeth, seeing the steam rise off your skin in the winter air after emerging from a relaxing rest is rejuvenating.

Finnish word for our determined, gutsy spirit. It's true all Finns are born with it. Author Beatrice Ojakangas describes it well: "Finnish-to-English dictionaries define it as "enduring energy" or "to possess guts" but it is more than that. It is a never-say-die individualism that Finns seem to be born with; they have the physical energy and mental endurance to stick to a job until it is done, and done well."
My mom's mug...

Finnish books

Like anything else, if you are studying Finland and want an accurate portrayal, you'll want to incorporate books from various authors, as it would be rare to have one book on a country portray all elements and history and views of a nation. The Enchantment of the World series gives a textbook start.

For younger children, consider a delightful Finnish folktale along with your lesson.
The Princess Mouse: A Tale of Finland by Aaron Shepard.

And here is a suggested reading list from the appendix of my Finnish Cookbook (The Finnish Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas):
From the Shores of Ladoga by Tauna Hammer, a historical novel depicting life in Karelia in the early 1900's, translated from the Finnish by Emilia Ritari.
Green Gold and Granite by Wendy Hall, a background to Finland.
Kalevala, in two volumes, by Elias Lonnrot, translated by W.F. Kirby, this is a Finnish national epic and it is written in poetic form.
Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi, the story of seven brothers growing up wild on their farm in Southern Finland. It is a story mingled with humor and pathetic events that illustrate the plucky Finnish character often described as "sisu."
The Unknown Soldier by Vaino Linna, translated from the Finnish, this is one of the outstanding contemporary war novels that has been described as "tough and realistic."
Who are the Finns? by R.E. Burnham, this describes well the history of the Finnish language and race.
SISU by Austin Goodrich, a short modern history of Finland.

Finns and Education

I've recently learned over the course of the last year that, interestingly enough, Finland is actually renowned for their schools. I read an article about six months ago explaining that Finns have been leading by the world's educational measures and that it was due to their natural balance of academics and recreation, not pushing lots of homework, not replacing quality with quantity and in general not burning out students by pushing them too hard. I find this fascinating because it rings so true to some of my own personal reasons for homeschooling!! Here is another article about this topic, suggesting that another reason Finland is successful in education is because they are allowed to be liberal in their choice of material (not "liberal" in content, but liberal in variety.) Article. This also rings very true to me and my joy in an eclectic curriculum. All in all, I have to say, it's great being a Finn!

Juhannus is a celebration of Mid-summer, usually falls around Father's Day weekend, and is celebrated by bonfires and cabin vacations. We traditionally go camping during this time. It's a casual cheers to summer solstice typically celebrated near lakes in the countryside. Like other aspects of my heritage, it was another tradition I grew up with that I didn't connect to being Finnish until adulthood. (Ahh, so that's why I love the first bonfires of the season so much. ;))

So there is a small glimpse of the Finn in me. Hope it inspires you to study the wonderful traditions and culture of Finland as well as the history of Finns in America.

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