I was asked to rummage through my Christmas smell memories for the Scented Letter this month and in doing so, also rummaged through every old photo album I have here with me in the UK.
Although I did find a few Christmas photos that weren’t completely humiliating, what I actually ended up spending more time on, were pictures of my maternal grandmother Aino, and of us together.
Aino grew vegetables, berries and flowers at our summer cottage and she adored flowers in particular.
We had dog rose, jasmine, pansies, lilies, geraniums and many more in abundance in every available spot. It’s no wonder that my first word was “kukka” (Finnish for “flower” – reportedly uttered as I went for Aino’s pansy border).
Aino was a Karelian refugee who came over to Finland at the age of 2 and lived at a time when one had to know how to do everything from scratch. Sometimes we don’t realise how spoiled we are.
She taught me how to make Karelian pasties, sourdough rye bread and many basic Finnish dishes. Many of these lessons took place at the summer cottage where we did not have electricity and the cooking was done on a wood-fired range and the bread was baked in the wood-heated oven at the sauna dressing room. I learned how to light the fires and brush out the coals and how dry birch bark makes the best kindling.
Aino’s cooking and baking wasn’t highly decorative but it was incredibly tasty. The post-war mentality of adding sugar, butter and cream to most things helped quite a bit there.
I still sometimes make the traditional Finnish Christmas dish lanttulaatikko (swede casserole), which used to be one of Aino’s masterpieces. My mother attempted to extract the recipe from her but Aino was not one for writing down instructions so the only way to save the recipe was to follow her and pay attention. Alas, my mother was not a detail person and the recipe she produced as a result of this exercise ended up somewhat chaotic and scribbled (main image). The various annotations in different colour pens are clarifications and dire warnings (“NOT TOO MUCH WATER!”) after years of attempts to get it right.
If you would like to have a go at making Aino’s lanttulaatikko, you’ll need a deep casserole dish and a large saucepan.
- 2 medium swedes
- A generous tablespoonful of wheat flour (or dried breadcrumbs)
- 1 tsp of salt
- 100ml of syrup (the one we used is Dan Sukker golden syrup which is available here from Ocado)
- 1/2 tsp of allspice
- 1 egg
- 100ml of cream
- 1 tbsp of butter
Chop the swedes and boil until cooked in little water. Add the salt to the cooking water. Mash the swedes in their water (careful not to have too much water). Add the flour and mix well. Then add the syrup and mix well – leave to sweeten for at least two hours (you can get the dish this far the night before and add the remaining ingredients and bake the following day. If you do this, lift the saucepan into the fridge for the night. This is what I do and the extra sweetening time really helps).
Heat the oven to 150°C.
Add the remaining ingredients just before baking. Pour all of the mixture into the deep casserole dish. You can attempt to make some nice patterns with a fork on the surface if you’re feeling artistic. Bake for approximately two hours.
Goes extremely well with baked ham, roast chicken, sprouts and lingonberry jam.
Read this month’s Scented Letter for more: