Vanha Pappila

Hankasalmi Church yard
Hankasalmi Church yard

In nearly every larger town and city  in Finland there is a Lutheran State Church. Somewhere nearby there will be the parsonage. Pappi is the word for minister or pastor and pappila is the parsonage. Vanha means old. These parsonages are not in their current use and have been sold many years ago to private owners. Some of these beauties have been renovated and others are waiting their turn. But once upon a time there was a time of large old manors that also owned large areas of land. The pappila was usually one of the larger manors in the county. They would have hired hands that would live on the land. A male hired hand is called a renki and the female is called a piika. The yard near the main house often formed an open square with housing quarters for the hired hands along one side and a barn and storage sheds along the other side. The town or county pastor was a revered man and could be considered a part of the upper class. In a time before general voting rights the upper classes and pastors had the right to vote.

A few days ago we returned back home from a family trip across Finland. We visited one of our friends that now live in a newer house that is situated next to the vanha pappila built around 1850. As we toured the old house and the quarters of the hired hands we spoke of days gone by. It was not completely impossible for someone born as a renki to move up in society if they for example married the widow of the house. Movement in society was much more difficult than today. What would life have been like? Touring these old buildings it brought back thoughts from the famous Finnish novel, Under the North Star (Täällä Pohjantähden alla) by Väinö Linna. It is a trilogy that tells the story of Finland as it goes through the civil war and gains independence. The father of the main character is a crofter. There is a fierce discussion of the Finnish language in the novel as it has a significant role in the creation of Finnish national identity. The book tells in a very engaging manner the emergence of social movement and the creation of a new type of society and helped me understand some of the political positions that people hold yet still today.  I sincerely recommend the book and as it tells the story from one perspective and once started is difficult to put down.

vanha pappila
vanha pappila

pappilan ovetI suppose the way life unfolds depends quite a bit on the people around you and the family you are born into, but I suppose that is still true to this day. If you were born to a hired hand, your quality of life depended on how fairly you were treated by your superiors. Usually these hired hands had a one year contract with their employers. Then they could in theory move on to try their fortune somewhere else. Many things look good on paper and in theory but when human nature is entered into the picture and the politics that goes with it, even simple things become complicated. On the same land there might have also been renters of the land that would also work a set amount of days for the owner of the land. These crofters were called torppareita. The crofters did have the opportunity to gain a bit of income on their own and were not as dependent of the land owners as the hired hands. Land ownership was quite significant as it meant the right to vote. Finland was one of the first countries to grant equal voting rights to men and women.

rengin tupa--quarters of the hired hands
rengin tupa–quarters of the hired hands

In the rooms of the manor are layers of old wall-paper decorated with decorative roses. In some rooms the strong timber logs are bare. Along the back of the house is a large veranda that was used for entertaining. I can almost imagine the ladies sitting in the shade, sipping their tea and looking out at the peony patch and the lake that is just down the hill.

verrandaThe floors in the house are a bit uneven now, as is the back veranda. This is due to the frost heave and lack of ground frost insulation that is commonly used in construction today in cold climates. Attached to the left side of the main building  next to the kitchen is a pantry. In the hired hands quarters is a large wood burning oven that takes up a one whole corner in the room. It doubled as the bakery for the manor and in the winter provided heat for the hired hands quarters. Similar ovens can be found quite commonly in homes throughout Finland.

mansikka torttuMy friend Sinikka served the most delicious strawberry tart after our tour. I couldn’t help myself and a second slice found its way onto my plate.


Sinikka’s Berry Tart — Gluten-free

150 g/5.3 oz softened butter
1 dl/ 1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1.5 dl/0.6 c potato or corn starch
1.5 dl/0.6 c gluten-free flour (for example: Sunnuntai brand)
1 tsp baking powder

5 dl/2 c puréed strawberrie (or other berries)
1 tbsp potato starch or corn starch
plus a sprinkle of sugar

Beat the softened butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add in the egg and beat well. Mix the dry ingredients and fold into the batter. Pat into a parchment paper lined tart tin. Purée the strawberries and mix in the tablespoon of corn or potato starch plus sugar to taste. Bake in the oven at 200 C/390 F for about 30 minutes. Gluten-free tarts tend remain raw in the middle easily. The parchment paper allows you to easily lift it up slightly from the side to check if it is done. After removing from the oven, sprinkle with sugar. This will prevent the strawberry purée from forming a skin.

playing in the treesplaying on the church yard


  1. I love the details in the houses (and the colors). Thank you for the book recommendation as well. I’m not that familiar with Finnish literature so I’m happy to get recommendations whenever I can.

    p.s. Cute kids!!!

    1. I fell in love with the details as well. I hope you have a chance to read the book. I really enjoyed it and felt that it gave me insight. It tells the story of the development of the working class and one side to the story. Kalle Päätalo tells the story from another perspective and is another well know Finnish author that actually grew up and was friends with my Finnish grandfather. Some of his works have been translated into English as well.

  2. Really so interesting Laila, I love learning a little bit of the history of different countries, you often find it’s not so different from where you live. The tart is gorgeous and looks so delicious.

    1. History has always been so interesting and when I was little I wished that I might have been born in the 1800s. As I grew up I was happy that I was born when I was…since I am a bit of a feminist…it might have been difficult for me to understand why women did not have the right to vote among other rights/privileges…perhaps I might have been a suffragette 😉

  3. What a wonderful way to step back in time and explore a little more of Finland’s history. I had absolutely no idea that Finland was one of the first countries to grant equal voting rights to men and women, how wonderful! I must also say that the tart looks divine. I would have had two slices myself 🙂

    1. Thank you Sophie. Sometimes the best photos of children and adults is when they are being themselves and do not realize that they are the subject of the lens 🙂

  4. Really interesting post Laila. The book recommendation sounds great for my husband to immerse himself in Finnish history (his great grandfather was Finnish). Love the yellowed boards and green roof of the vanha pappila. Your friend’s strawberry tart looks juicy and delicious (especially with that colourful hint of Marimekko right behind it)!

    1. The book is one that made a strong impact on me and storyline is so engaging that I had it read in no time. Hope you have a chance to find it! I really love old houses as they have stories to tell. Not that there is anything wrong with new houses, their stories are in the making! I love Marimekko fabrics as well, and always check out their new season to see if there is something that might strike my fancy. Their fall collection just came out 🙂 And yes, the tart was perfect.

  5. I am so glad to had that you were able to go home for a visit. Love to see your beautiful children playing and looking at Finland through the eye of your camera lens is always a fun and colorful experience. Thanks to your friend for the lovely gluten free strawberry tart recipe. I think i might want 2 slices too.

    1. We really enjoyed visiting friends and seeing these historical places really bring the history books alive. The filling in the tart was so fresh that it almost tasted like it had not been baked…like freshly puréed strawberries. Hope you have a chance to try it out sometime if you need a gluten-free recipe 🙂

  6. This was such an interesting post…not only have you shared a delicious sounding recipe but I enjoyed the history and photos of the vanha pappila.

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