Keepsakes in my Kitchen

In my kitchen this month I have more keepsakes. All sorts of treasures from old letters, Karelian pies that my children love, to two bread starters coming from opposite sides of the globe. The first starter is from my Dad and I brought it over when I last visited the States. The other starter I received from Celia’s kitchen in Australia. My children made it to the mailbox before me and thinking that the envelope was a belated Christmas card, they had managed to tear it open. It came with a lovely letter and simple instructions, and the request to give the bread root a name preferrably something that refers back to the original which is named Priscilla. Thank you so much for the mail Celia! So now I have two starters on the counter bubbling away. Would you have a suggestion what I should name these twin starters?

celia's breadroot

A little while ago I received a scanned article from my Grampa written by Elma (my great-great-aunt) in my inbox. The article tells of her story of when she came to visit Finland in 1930s. I have understood that one reason why she came to Finland was due to a broken romance. I have read it through a few times and have found myself smiling and even laughing outloud on a few occasions. The article has nineteen pages and so I will share some of the anecdotes over the course of a few posts. Back then, travel was not as common as today and so this was her first trip to Finland along with her first impressions. As she describes the places she visits I can almost imagine it since I have visited many of the same places as well. The cobble-stones that she mentions in the excerpt below are most likely the same ones still in place today. I could not even imagine walking over them in heels! Perhaps we have walked the same path along the Esplanade. She toured Finland for ten weeks and in those ten weeks she wore out two pairs of shoes out of the five that she had taken with and the only ones that really were durable were the ones patched up with Finnish leather. Elman artikkeli 2As they approached the Helsinki harbour, she tells of the emotion that many of the passengers experienced. It was emotion that she did not quite understand at the time, but as time and her trip went on, she started to feel the patriotism of her Mother’s and Father’s homeland. Later on she states that Helsinki kind of grows on you with its white cathedral in the background and the islands and land that just seem to appear out of the sea.

December 12, 2007 One relieved graduate with her Master's degree under her arm
Helsinki Cathedral: December 12, 2007 One relieved graduate with her Master’s degree under her arm

Upon arriving in Helsinki, it was not until the next day that they would actually step on land as they used small boats to bring the passengers from the ship. And a ship with passengers with 800 travelers would take some time indeed to unload. I suppose traveling in that time was something that was done with leisure. Not because they chose to, but because that was the only way to do it, as it was not possible to quick hop on a plane and visit Paris for an afternoon coffee as one of my friends once did. She had spent thirteen days on the ship and it had started to feel a bit like home. After making it on land she had been so hungry that she had headed to the first restaurant. I wonder if she ate at the indoor old market hall that is a red brick building that had been built in 1889. The old market hall building is the one with many people standing in front of it, perhaps holding an outdoor market as well.

Old market hall built in 1889 and the cityscape of Helsinki.
Old market hall built in 1889 and the cityscape of Helsinki, year unknown. photo credit:

“This restaurant was one where the women that worked in the outdoor market ate. They were dressed in blue dresses and wore white scarves on their heads and a small purse attached to a strap hung off their shoulder. I thought all women dressed in the same way, but I was told otherwise. I asked for a sandwich, and they asked what kind, ham? I choose the ham, and it was the best bread with ham I had ever tasted–not a sandwich as we know it, but a piece of bread with butter and slice of ham. Then I ordered a little bit of everything and drank an entire pot of coffee. It all tasted so good that I ate so much, I could barely walk after that.”

Elman artikkeli 4 saimaa

After Helsinki, Elma and Lyydi, a friend and travel companion headed to Eastern Finland and into Karelia that after the Winter and Continuation War belonged to Russia. She describes Saimaa which is located in Eastern Finland and is Finland’s largest waterway and expands over 4,400 square kilometers (2,734 miles) in the excerpt above.

“No one can explain the beauty of the Saimaa. With thousands of islands, it makes it seems as if it actually is thousands of lakes connected together. The sky above is the Finnish flag, blue and white, bluer and whiter than anywhere else in the world. The lake is at times a clearer blue and sometimes silver, but always crystal clear. The reflection of the islands in this perfect mirror and are green, blue and purple depending on the distance.”

Saimaa, September 2014
Saimaa, September 2014
Elma 5
Elma, date unknown



She does not mention if she ate the famous Karjalanpiirakka or Karelian pies. They are like little handpies that have a crust made of rye flour and filled with rice porridge. While they sell them here in all of the shops and bakeries, I believe that handmade and homemade ones are the best. But I would like to think that most likely she tasted them at some point. She does mention in her writing that often when visiting and eating, she would have to dine by herself as this was the custom of showing respect to the guest. She often would request to dine with the others, but they did not take note and just thought she was being humble and polite, trying to rather unsuccessfully refuse the honor of being the guest.

making karjalanpiirakkaThe karjalanpiirakka has very simple and inexpensive ingredients but it is fairly labor intensive. Often when we have made them for bake sales, we have a large group of people. One person has come earlier to cook the rice porridge as it is best to luke warm or cool for easier spreading. The rest of the crew shows up later to make the crust, which is actually quite simple and quick. Then an assembley line is set up. One will cut dough into portions that will then be divided into small disks to be rolled out by a group one. Group two will take the rolled out disks and fill the crusts with rice porride and crimp the sides. The third group will take care of the baking. The oven should be as hot as it goes as these traditionally have been baked in the wood burning stone oven that can be still found in most homes in Finland still today.

riisipuuro rice porridge
a wedding gift of ours: a double boiler pot intended just for porridge

Karjalanpiirakka, recipe from Hyvää Ruokahalua edited by Anna-Maija Tanttu
Rice filling

2 dl/just under 1 c water
2.5 dl/generous 1 c pearl rice
1 l/generous 2 pints of milk
2 tsp salt

Place the rice and water into a double boiler and allow to cook until the rice has absorbed most of the water. Add the milk and allow to simmer until thickened, or about 30 to 35 minutes. Mix in the salt and allow to cool.


2 dl/ just under 1 c cold water
1 tl salt
4 dl/1.7 c rye flour
2 dl/just under 1 c flour
1 tbsp butter or oil

Prepare the crust by mixing the salt and water together. Next mix in the flour. My tip is to not add in all of the flour at once, otherwise it will become too crumbly as mine did. Add in 2/3 of the flour and knead, adding the remaining flour as needed. Finally add in the oil or butter and knead until it becomes a smooth dough.

carelian pie dough collageDivide the dough and roll into thick rods that can be then divided into small disks to be rolled out. Roll out the little disks into oval shapes on a counter sprinkled with rye flour.

rolling out karjalanpiirakkaIf you need to take a break, make sure to cover the dough with cling film. Before filling the crust with the porridge, make sure to brush off the excess rye flour. Fill each rolled out disk with rice porridge leaving about 1.5 cm/generous 1/2 inch unfilled from the edge. Using both hands, crimp both side simultaneously going from one end to the other making an oval with rather sharp tips. I baked mine at 250 C/480 F for about ten minutes. Traditionally the karjalanpiirakka is dipped in a bath of hot milk and a knob of melted butter after baking. This is to soften the crust. I prefer the crispy rye crust and so I skip this stage, and I know that many others do as well. So it really is a matter of taste.

baked karjalanpiirakkaServe the karjalanpiirakka with egg butter. Hard boil 4-5 eggs for about 5-6 minutes depending on what you prefer. I prefer that the yolks are not soft but have a definite deep yellow color to them and are soft in texture. Allow to cool in a cold water bath for just a bit. Cut 100-150 g/3.5-5 ounces of butter into large cubes and place into a medium size bowl. Remove the shells from the eggs and using an egg slicer, slice the eggs twice making for small cubes. Using a fork, mix in with the butter. Add a sprinkle of salt to taste if needed.

two roots of bread

On my counter is a pair of bread starters bubbling away. Next week I will share some fresh sourdough bread and more of Elma’s trip as she visits Kauvosaari and Raahe the birth places of her parents Isak and Ida Anderson who immigrated from Finland to the United States via Norway in the late 1800s.

This post is a part of Celia’s In my Kitchen series that she hosts every month. In the sidebar of her blog is list of blogs from around the world, featuring what might be in their kitchen that particular month. This month she is featuring Kim, a fellow blogger who lost her home in fire. There is a link in her blog to a fundraiser to help her put a new stove in her kitchen and rebuild their lives.

note: At the end of Elma’s article it says that it is written originally in English by: Miss Elma Anderson of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Translate into Finnish by: Miss Lillian Kovala of Ashland, Wisconsin

and revised later by Laura (Mrs. Matt) Myllys of Minneapolis, Minnesota

The language is most likely quite old as it has come over with the previous generation of immigrants on the boats. Often in the new country, with a new language at its side the old language does not evolve in the same manner as in the home country, keeping many attributes of the past alive.



  1. How interesting that Elma’s letter was written in English and then translated in to Finnish, not once but twice. Does this mean that the family in Finland were very interested in reading an account of her trip? Elma and Lyydi, though not much like Priscilla, might be good names for the starters, because the starters are both on interesting journeys in Finland, like Lyydi and Elma were.

    1. Hi Gallivanta! I think perhaps it was translated into Finnish possibly for the Finnish relatives in Finland but also for the Finnish community in Minneapolis. I am assuming that the language was alive and thriving at the time…but I will have to check the details. Thank you for the name suggestion…love it!

  2. You should name your starters Elma and Lyydi. Such a beautiful post. I think you should publish your family’s memoirs. The thoughts and emotions of your Great Great Aunt are poignant and beautiful. Those little pastries or breads are very nice, I’ve never heard of nor tasted these. I think it would be lovely with egg.

    1. Such a great suggestion…it would the starters with a story behind them 🙂 I have really enjoyed reading Elma’s descriptive writing. I wish I could send you a sample of the karjalanpiirakka…I think you would like them. Thanks for stopping by Suzanne!

  3. Again, what a wonderful mixture of history, family and culinary tradition! Elma seems like a real character. Elma and Lyydi seem good names for your starters. I wonder if Celia has mapped out where Priscilla has migrated? Mine (called Muriel) if very vigorous and I love baking with it. I’m going to have to bookmark this recipe – so unusual (at least outside of Finland) and interesting. Thanks!

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post…we’ll have to ask Celia where she acquired Celia or did she make it herself? Perhaps she has an old blog post all about it 🙂 Hope you have a chance to try out the recipe sometime…let me know if you do!

  4. Lovely little pastries and the continuing story of Elma. Do you ever wonder if someone will tell your story one day? I sometimes wonder about it. I didn’t know ‘egg butter’ was a real thing!! 30 years ago when I first came to Australia, a friend I made used to mash up boiled egg in butter and eat it on white cracker biscuits. She added salt and pepper. It was delicious but I have never seen or heard of anyone else using it. Thanks Laila. x

    1. I feel that there are so many stories to tell of Elma, and a blog post can only be so long. So that means several or maybe many blog posts over time. Yes, I have sometimes wondered what our children and maybe their children will remember of us and will they allow their memories to live by passing them on or just keep them private like some do. Egg butter is a real thing in Finland and traditionally is always served with the karjalanpiirakka. If my kids see that we are having the piirakka, they always ask if their is egg butter made. Sometimes there is and sometimes they have to make do with just regular butter. 🙂

  5. Yes, do you ever wonder if someone will tell your story one day?
    Keep up the good work and perhaps they will.
    Love, Grampa

    1. Yes, I have sometimes wondered what the children will remember their childhoods and the memories that they make. Perhaps someday they will read the blog as it contains something of our daily life as well.
      Love Laila ❤

  6. I love the idea of having keepsakes so close by, mine are in my memory box, but I rarely ever get it out!
    Reading about your family’s letters are so lovely, thank you for sharing them.

    Choc Chip Uru

    1. Thank you Uru, so glad you stopped by and enjoyed the letters. I suppose I have had them on hand now more than before as they have been under some scrutiny to find the family stories before they disappear. 🙂

  7. Beautiful post. I really enjoy stories of heritage. Those little pies look interesting. I feel like I wouldn’t make them but would be happy to try them.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing the Karelian Pie recipe. We used to have a Scandinavian bakery in Brisbane, Queensland that made them but it closed a few years ago. Them my mum got sick and we never got to make them before she passed away. I am going to have a go at making them in a couple of weeks (on the first anniversary of her passing) to remember her and my Finnish heritage.

      1. My sister and I just made these together. Exactly how we remember them. Having trouble leaving enough for the kids to have when they return home from school this afternoon. Surprisingly easy to make. Will make more later this week after a batch or two of pulla. Thank again for sharing the recipe.

  9. What a fascinating story about your great great aunt! I love the silhouette photo of her! So glad your starter arrived – have you decided on names yet? I do so love seeing them bubbling up next to each other, thanks for taking that pic! Your porridge tarts sound intriguing – I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything like that! 🙂

  10. Laila, it was a pleasure learning about Elma and her travels. Her story should be preserved for all to enjoy! Here’s a link to the Minnesota Finnish Pages that you might be interested in:

    I especially enjoyed your recipe (and story) for karjalanpiirakka with egg butter. One of my favorite winter breakfasts is poached eggs on toast, topped with butter and salt and pepper. Never thought to combine them like this! Sounds hearty and wonderful.

    Thank you for your kindness in mentioning our fundraiser. Truly grateful… thanks again. xo

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