Hilja’s Letter

Note: This post has been edited 10.11.2020 as I have found more information about Hilja’s life.

Today Finland turns 99 years old. The sun has been shining bright and it is cold. I can only imagine how cold it was during the Winter War, when Finland defended it’s independence from Russia, as it was an exceptionally cold winter and there certainly was a lack of luxury and comfort. Many foods were rationed and creativity was required to prepare meals. Some time back I received an email from my Grampa Jim. It was the letter addressed to Elma from her cousin Hilja from Finland, or that is how they speak of each other in some other texts. I thought today would be the perfect day to share it, as it gives insight into Finnish society and their ability to find a unity when it was needed most dearly. I find myself returning back to the letter and rereading it over and over again. It is so articulately written and intriguing. And her wise eyes that observed society around her and look directly at you from the photograph.

History is so interesting, as it is the stories of people all intertangled. I fear that if these stories remain only in our memories, they are easily forgotten. I will tell you a little about Hilja. She was the foster mother (sister of the Rautavaara’s mother, Elsa Teräskeli. Elsa was also a doctor and died when Einojuhani was 16.) of the late Einojuhani Rautavaara, a very well-known Finnish composer. In the letter Einojuhani is referred to Jukka, but Hilja says that they call him Eino now. For those that have not read my blog earlier, Elma the receiver of the letter, is the is my great-great aunt and visited Finland in the thirties and had a close relationship with Hilja. Hilja and Elma were cousins. Below is Hilja’s letter to Elma written Decemer 21, 1940, right after the Winter War.  Hilja’s English was perfect. I am assuming that not everyone had such a perfect grasp of English at the time, as access to education was not at the same level as it is today. This led me to do a bit of research. It turns out that Hilja (born Sept. 4th 1893 and died Jan. 8th 1958) was an Ophthalmologist or more simply an eye doctor. In addition to being a practicing physician, she was also a professor of eye diseases at the University of Turku and the second woman in Finland to be named professor in the field of medicine.

Links for previous posts about the Anderson family and Aunt Elma can be found here:In my kitchen in the Bleak of the Midwinter, Elma, Following Elma’s footsteps, Keepsakes in my Kitchen, Easter Mummus, a Bobcat and our very own Wild Thing, Elma’s Travels, Some Mean Coffee, All the King’s Men, and Friendship in My Kitchen.

Elma Anderson and Einojuhani Rautavaara
Elma Anderson and Einojuhani Rautavaara



Hilja writes about being at Sibelius’ 75th birthday concert. Among others, Mannerheim was in the audience. The emotion that everyone shared. They had survived the war together, unity was found even though civil war has torn the country apart only about twenty years earlier. They all now had a common cause and the cause was to remain independent from Russia.

You wish to know how it is with us. Above all is the feeling that this nation is of one mind. The war melted us in one chunk of ore. Working men, professional man, university student and peasant stood shoulder to shoulder in the war. They have become inseparable brothers at arms in the works of peace as well. A few days ago, the respresentative body consented to grant invalid-pensions to the so-called “red” invalids, who in the year 1918 at the side of the “reds” and fighting with the Russians, were wounded. This was extending the hand over the gulf. And accompanying President Kallio to the station on his retirement from the presidency, was a procession with bands, composed of the youth of the nation, university students, young people of the working class and Lottas. When, according, to custom, we celebrated in December our Independence day, on that occasion the flags of the defense organization were side by side. And when a new President was elected to take President Kallio’s place, it happened unanimously. Risto Ryti reveived the vote of nearly all the electors. We are unspeakably happy because of the unity. Unity is strength “One power is concealed in the heart.” was sang recently at the concert celebrating Sibelius’ 75th birthday. We were there Katri and I. There was present among others also Mannerheim. That song is composed by Sibelius, and when they sang the words, “This country must never perish,” people’s eyes became filled with tears, many sobbed, the heart wanted to burst with overpowering feeling. It was like being in church. Those words last winter every Finnish man and woman repeated in his own mind every day. We must endure! Those words were true; they were vividly lived. So this unity is with us, praise God, uppermost at this moment.”

Hilja tells of President Kallio’s death, in the middle of a procession. It is possible to sense the unity of the people in a war-torn country and how they stood behind their leader who had shown the qualities of a true leader. I feel that sometimes we need to hit a low point in order to see what is important in building a new future for our children.

 You have read in the papers that President Kallio has been ill and he therefore had to retire. Already a new president was elected and everything was ready, and President Kallio was to travel out to the country to rest, when at the station just having bid farewell to his accompanying friends and government officials and representatives of Congress, a moment before stepping into the train, he fell dead in the arms of the Field Marshal Mannerheim who was walking at his side before the ranks of the armies of honor. He died a wonderful death, just at the crowning peak of his life. It is as if the Lord of life and death had willed all this in this remarkable way. Great multitudes of people were escorting him. It was just as though he died into the arms of his people. He was loved and respected, a noble-hearted man, whose heart last winter had to bear so much, and which now stopped beating at the moment when the Fatherland had already received a new leader, a new President.


Today in my kitchen we celebrated the Finnish Independence day  with two lighted candles. The children made a traditional toffee fudge quite independently. They have grown so big that they prefer to bake without any help. The question that comes to mind is how to teach our children the value of our society today. The freedoms and priviledges we have. The equality, although never quite perfect as we are a society of humans and humans are not known for perfection, is still at a very advanced level. The privilege of education and personal safety. I am able to let my children freely bike and walk in the neighborhood. I would hope that our children would not take these rights and privileges for granted as many have paid a heavy price.


Toffee Fudge, recipe from the Children’s baking book Suomen Lasten Leivontakirja by Ulla Svensk

2 dl/ 1 c heavy whipping cream
2 dl/ 1 c caster sugar
1 dl/ 1/2 c brown sugar
3 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp butter
sprinkle of fleur de sel

Bring the cream, brown sugar, caster sugar and molasses to a boil. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until it has thickened. Test if the mixture is done by dropping a small drop into a bowl of cold water. If it firms up, it is ready.

Add the butter to fudge and mix until incorporated. Pour the fudge into a small pan (15 cm x 15 cm) that is lined with parchment paper. Allow to cool in the refrigerator. Cut into squares and if preferred you may roll the squares into balls.

These make a pretty gift. Wrap the individual pieces of fudge into small pieces of cellophane and tied with string.

In my kitchen I have also been making treats that do not have refined sugar. The following recipe for raw chocolate is delicious. The original recipe I received from my friend Kaisa. As I did not have the recipe on me when out shopping I had to guess when buying ingredients and so my version is a bit different.


Raw chocolate with nuts

You will need a set of molds for the chocolate.

2 dl/ 1 c organic cocoa mass
1 dl/ 1/2 dl coconut oil
1 dl/ 1/2 c raw cocoa powder
about 1 tbsp stevia
1 tsp mint or vanilla extract
assortment of nuts

Place the cocoa mass and coconut oil in a large bowl. Fill your sink with hot water and place the bowl in the sink. Melt the coconut oil and cocoa mass by stirring until it is all melted. By melting the cocoa mass in a hot water bath all of the nutrients are kept.

Stir in the cocoa powder, stevia and your choice of mint or vanilla extract. Place a few nuts in each mold if you wish. Spoon the melted chocolate mixture so that nuts are completely covered. Place in the refrigerator and allow to set. If you prefer, you may freeze your chocolate.

As it is Finland’s Independence day today, my kitchen has been filled with Finnish music.

Einjuhani Rautavaara is one of Finland’s contemporary composers. One of his most well known pieces is the Cantus Arcticus Op. 61 in which you may hear the audio landscape of the nordic and the calls of the wild birds.

This post is part of the In My Kitchen series that is currently hosted by the lovely Lizzy at her blog Good Things.




  1. What a lovely tribute to the country and her people. It is so poignant to read the very articulate, and well typed! letter of life during the war. Thank you for sharing it Laila. Enjoy your celebration.

  2. That letter is fascinating and precious to have! Thanks for sharing! And thanks for saving it till today.
    What is cocoa mass? What would I look for here in Canada?

    1. Hi Carol! Thanks for stopping by! I found the cocoa mass from a natural foods store. It also goes by the name of chocolate liquor. The stuff I got looked like matte chocolate bar broken into pieces. Some use cocoa butter, but since I like a darker chocolate I tried the cocoa mass. Even our kids liked it even if it was not to sweet. Another place to look might be an online shop. Hope you find it!

      1. Thanks Laila. I passed this blog to a couple friends and relatives who enjoyed the letter! A friend heard Rautavaara played the other day on Finnish radio. I will try locate some chocolate mass!
        Merry Christmas!

  3. I love your posts with vintage photo’s and history involving friends and relatives and also to learn more about Finland. What a wonderful way to celebrate Finlands Independance day and great that the children made the fudge and I love your raw chocolate treat with no refined sugar. I also am trying to steer clear of that (except now when I am baking for the holidays) Happy Holidays and loved this post.

    1. I feel lucky that the old photographs and writings have been saved. So special. And it difficult to stay away from refined sugar during the holidays when there are treats being served at every occasion! I was thinking to make a few refined sugar-free treats for Christmas alongside the traditional ones as I’ve found that my kids like them as well.

  4. What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing that beautiful letter (letter writing is a lost art) with photos to bring that beautiful woman to life!

    Your own home is full of life – chocolate! – and there’s a good chance the origin of that chocolate is Ecuador!

    The music is quite special as well, and it fits well tonight with my painting sessions!

    1. Thank you Lisa!
      So many nutritious ingredients come from Central and South America, and recently I have been learning to use them. I have enough cocoa mass for another batch of chocolate. They really are a delicious treat.

      The music is perfect for painting! When listening to it, it almost feels like you are standing in the middle of the nordic wilderness, perhaps in a bog where your rubber boots sink in a few inches with each step, almost like walking on a wet mattress and the birds fly by letting out their wild call. Some calls are raw with an edge and some have a melody…all of them just as beautiful in their own way as it means that spring has come once again.

  5. This is a most beautiful and fascinating post. I am currently travelling, but when I get home I will read it again, more thoroughly. Have you considered writing a book? Thank you for the very kind shout out, and happy December to you XXXX

    1. Oh thank you Liz for the compliments! You know, I did write one cook book a few years back that is laying on my shelf waiting for a publisher, but then I decided that perhaps it should be completely rewritten. It doesn’t feel finished anymore. I would love to write a cookbook that would tell some of the history of the family. And thank you for hosting IMK, it is my favorite event that I aim for every month. Now I had had a longer break due to work commitments. Happy holidays to you!

  6. Hilja’s letter is a fascinating glimpse into the past. And from the foundations of the past comes Einojuhani Rautavaara’s beautiful music. Happy Birthday Finland.

    1. Yes, you are right indeed. Our history affects the present and often offers inspiration and a place of reflection as we work towards the future. So nice for you to stop by Gallivanta.

  7. I enjoyed reading the historical aspect of your posts and recall reading previous installments in the past. Love that fudge recipe too and now plan to make some.

  8. As always a lovely, thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing this intriguing peek into history. In this digital age, I wonder what online posts and correspondence will survive to be shared with future generations.

    1. Thank you SeattleDee! I have sometimes wondered the same…I’m hoping that they will remain as I have thought that these posts are just as much for my children as they are for me.

  9. It is nice that you have such an wonderful collection of letters from the past…I find them very interesting. I do hope the younger generations appreciate what others endured for the life we have now.

    1. Yes I feel lucky that there are letters and writings and photographs. I don’t believe that it was overly common for one to have photography as a hobby in the early 1900s, certainly much different than today when nearly everyone has access to a camera on their phone.

  10. that toffee fudge recipe looks great but i’m not sure i have the patience to wait 40 minutes for it to cook:) love all the history and thanks for sharing the letter. such an interesting insight into the past. merry xmas.

  11. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing the letter and the story, and especially the mention of Einojuhani Rautavaara. My Grandma Ellen Cadwell (Elma’s younger sister), always took great pride in the fact that the great Finnish composer was a relative. I did a quick online search and found that his mother Elsa’s mother was Helena Katariina Kauvosaari, born in Ylitornio in 1855.

  12. One last follow up. Sorry for so many…. According to the records on Ancestry,com, Einojuhani Rautavaara’s grandmother Helena Katariina Kauvosaari was born in 1855 to Anders Andersson Kauvosaari and Anna Caisa Andersdotter, which are the Swedish names of Antti Kauvosaari and Anna Kaisa Antintytär, the parents of Isak Kauvosaari (Anderson). If correct, and the dates and names do line up, it means that Helena Kauvosaari was likely a sister of Isaac, and her daughters Hilja and Elsa would indeed be first cousins of Elma, my Grandma Ellen, and your great-grandmother Aggie.

    1. Oh, don’t be sorry for posting so many comments! I’m loving it! And so thankful that you’re sharing as I have thought for some time that I would like to figure out that specific connection. Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply to tableofcolors Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s