Following Elma’s footsteps
The other week, I had some business in Helsinki and I decided to take a couple hours after my obligations to take a little Elma tour. I know that Elma had visited in the summer and so you will just need to imagine that everything is green and maybe the sun would be out. The day I went, it was wet and there was a wind blowing. But I do think that the excursion was really quite interesting. It became interesting completely by accident, and I will soon tell you why. Elma had mentioned in her writing that she had eaten at the Kappeli Restaurant which is right in the middle of the Esplanade and overlooks the harbor. Across the walkway from the Kappeli is a bandshell and Elma mentions that the people were wandering about in no hurry at all. “…There were children with their nannies, old grandmas knitting under the shade of the trees, and doves flew around in flocks creating a charming picture of the old world.” The building itself is quite decorative and is known for its glass rooms. I have eaten there a couple of times and have been intrigued with old decor. Fun to think that we have both visited the same spot.
If you are new to the blog, check out the links below for the story on Elma, my great-aunt.
“We often would eat at the Kappeli, a restaurant made of glass with a small garden on the outside where we could sit for hours and men would lean on their canes. We found the canes quite amusing as they were a symbol of manhood. As soon as a boy has finished the Lyseo or high school, his relatives would gift him a cane. One could see such child-like faces and yet they would carry the canes with grandeur. One such Finnish athlete said that he was intending to buy a new cane. I told him that in America only the weak that could barely walk would use a cane reluctantly. He wondered, but since he admired America, decided to not buy the new cane.”
As I was taking pictures of the Kappeli, I could hear squealing and screaming and of course I had to turn and see what was causing the commotion. I had forgotten that it was penkkari or penkinpainajainen day, or the day when the students in the last year of the Finnish high school or lukio are celebrating their last day before they start studying for the matriculation exams later in the spring. Each school has a theme and everyone dresses up accordingly. They all load up on trucks and drive through the city, screaming and throwing out candy much to the joy of my children.
Elma does not go directly up north and visit the homes and farms of her parents but I decided that I would share that with you now in this post and return to other parts of her trip later, as I feel that the homes and communities that Ida and Isaac left behind forms the beginning of their immigration journey.
In Elma’s papers was a sketch of Kauvosaari which is a part of Ylitornio. Her father Isaac was originally from there. “Kauvosaari is a small island in the middle of a river with a quick current. It is a loved place. The island has a forest, rock fells and glows purple with the atmosphere giving it the color purple. I found the stone foundation of the Kauvosaari house, but it had been brought to the land where it now stood large and vibrant, made with countless logs crossing with each other and painted red. It was still intact, good for still many generations to come. I picked the Lilly of the Valley where my forefathers have perhaps picked before me…”
It was quite common in those days for immigrants to first go to Norway often stopping for a while in Finnmarken or Tromso before continuing to the United States. Even today, some young people go to Tromso for a season to work in the factories handling fish, and in Finnmarken you can get by quite well with the Finnish language. It appears to be, that according to my Grampa’s cousin Matthew, there is documentation that the Kauvosaari brothers (later Anderson) immigrated through Norway. Perhaps in this documentation there is a year marked stating the time of immigration. I know that many left Finland during and after the years of famine in 1866-1868. It was the last famine of its kind and 8% of the Finnish population died during those years. By looking at the family photographs of Isaac and Ida, I am guessing that Anderson brothers left some years later.
Elma also visited shortly in Raahe. Raahe is small city with a harbor located on the Gulf of Bothnia. In Elma’s writings she describes her fourth of July in Finland and the experience of her mother Ida, when she first arrived in New York City.
“Although it was fun, it was the quietest Fourth of July I have ever experienced–my first in a foreign land. My mother’s first Fourth of July in a foreign land was completely different. She was fourteen years old when she arrived as an immigrant into the harbor of New York on July fourth. She thought the country was at war because of the noise and shooting happening from the ships. Her only thought was to get away from it all, and since she did not understand the language of the land she had to trust in only God, that she might survive.
I wonder, was she alone when she immigrated. And how brave for a fourteen year-old to leave everything that is familiar for a new country and new language. Grampa said that she worked in a hotel in downtown Minneapolis as a cook and that is where Isaac and Ida eventually met. Perhaps in her home in Finland, that is in the picture above, her mother might have a large wooden bowl used for bread baking. Rye bread has been a staple in Finnish diets for years and it is made with a bread root. Some say that the rounded and plump versions were meant for eating right away and the flat shaped breads with hole in the middle, so it could be hung up to dry was for later when fresh bread was not available. Depending where in Finland one lived, bread was not necessarily made every week. If it was made more often, there might be some of the bread starter left on the sides of the bowl to dry for the next baking day and if bread was only made a few times a year a new starter was made some days before.
Some time ago I received two different bread starters from opposite sides of the globe. One is from Australia from the lovely Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and the other I brought back from the US on my last trip last spring from my lovely Dad. Originally I had not thought of giving the starters names, but Celia asked if they could be named and so I posed the question to you last week. I have decided on Elma and Ida, as they are both travelers going long distances. The bread on the left is made with Elma coming from Celia. I have used strong bread flour with it and added some spelt and oat bran to the dough. The loaf on the right is made with Ida, coming from the kitchen I grew up in Golden Valley. Although neither bread is similar to the Finnish rye bread, I have added rye flour to the Ida giving them both a distinct flavour. My children have really fallen in love with the bread and I have been making a few loaves at a time several times a week. This way, I end up not having to do too much work as I have put my KitchenAid to knead the dough. And little by little I have been learning the trick, and the trick is patience and time. When there is no rush, it works every time like a charm. I had asked my Dad for some thoughts on baking bread as he as been doing it for years.
“I have always liked the concept of a sour dough. It is a slow food that
needs a bit of forethought and time. The whole idea is that every house has
its own sour and its own flavor. While it requires a bit of forethought it
is essentially an easy and simple process, but like most easy and simple
processes it has some rather complex biology that has to happen on a regular
Of course, the best way to start a starter is make friends with someone who
has a starter that has a flavor that you like.
You can of course start a sour yourself but it takes several weeks and
several “generations” to get it to be stable with a flavor that you will
like. I didn’t have a starter about 7 years ago, (maybe this one is about
Aleksi’s age?) but I figured if the Egyptians had figured this out 6
thousand years ago then I probably could too. “
“The most important ingredient to the process is patience. It is important to
understand that it is a biological process and that if you create the right
kind of environment you will get the right kind of biology. My opinion is
that it is important to keep your sour exposed to the air. You will get some
wild yeast from your environment as well as other organisms that are
specifically in your house and home. It is also important to understand that
you will get some activity but it will probably not be the right strain
right away and that it will take some generations to develop and cultivate a
dominant culture that both has a consistent and stable population as well as
generates a good flavor. Eventually by cultivating this sour in your home
you will get the flavor from your home environment. Every sour eventually
becomes different according to the environment of the home.”
Celia’s wish was that her bread starter could be passed on other interested bread bakers. And so if there is interest, I will gladly share some of either starter with you. Celia has wonderful step-step tutorials to baking with a sourdough in her blog. Check out the following links:
If you have extra starter on hand, check out Celia’s link for these wonderful sourdough pancakes. I made them one evening for supper and they were popular with the children.
What I have been doing is a combination of fresh starter in the fridge according to Celia’s instructions and also allowing a thin layer of dough to dry in the bowl. Once completely dry, I have scraped it off and poured it into a plastic bag and kept in a dry place. I like have the dry starter on hand as a back up just in case someone was to spill my fresh starter. I make sure that the fresh starter is able to get air at all time and I have been using a Tupperware dressing shaker, that is tall and narrow and does not take up too much space. I leave the cap on the cover open for air and it has been working perfectly.