Attitudes to food and eating influence the quality of life wherever you live. The people of Finland lived through a terrible time during the 2nd World War that is only dimly understood by those of us born and raised in North America. The lasting legacy of this was brought home to me when I lived in Finland for a period in the early seventies. I was visiting an elderly couple who had known my then boyfriend since he was a child.
Our visit to their simple country home was unannounced and greeted with unintelligible cries of joy and great excitement. We were seated in places of honour in the parlour and invited to have a few refreshments with them. The wife had fond memories of my friend’s childhood love of fried egg sandwiches and she announced that she would prepare this treat for us. I understood little Finnish and my friend understood only a little more, so the conversation was pretty much one sided, accompanied by beaming faces and much bustling of food preparation.
While this was going on my friend invited me outside to view the outhouse – partly for entertainment and partly so that if the need arose, I would be aware of the location of the facilities. This building was truly a marvel as it was much larger than the conventional outhouses of my experience which were built for single occupancy. It was octagonal in shape and clearly designed for a large family. here were 8 stations in the plain smooth wood platform, each provided with its pile of farming magazines and sheets of newspaper on a string for purposes of hygiene. Two of the places had a raised step in front to accommodate smaller children. Beside every hole was a tin can of lime for sprinkling through the opening after a visit.
The walls were decorated with magazine pages lovingly pinned onto the simple wooden structure. I imagine that in the frigid Finnish winter the experience would have been breathtaking and as brief as nature would allow, as in the summer when the smell generated by the heat would have provided the disincentive to linger.
The aroma of frying butter greeted us as we sat down in our places and were presented with plates to hold on our lap. There was no place for us at the table as it was completely covered with food. Before we could proceed to the groaning buffet spread before us (and we were expected to move on to this feast) we first had to eat the fried egg sandwiches.
These were made over the open fire using a metal device with a hinged cup held by two long metal rods with a wooden handle on each. The two slices of white bread (buttered sides against the metal cup sides) were placed one in each half of the cup, with an egg on one half. When the second half was closed over the first, the sharp metal sides of the device cut off the crusts and enclosed the buttered bread and egg making a perfect round which cooked to golden perfection on the wood stove.
This kind and gentle farmer’s wife had prepared 28 of these for the two of us.
As I recall, I managed to eat no more than about 4 and my friend packed away a respectable 10 or more. We were forced to eat from the savory goodies on the table and then to proceed to eat sweet pastries. Before the afternoon was out I was glad that I knew the way to the privy.
During the war the Finnish people had suffered through a period of devastating hardship and had faced starvation on many occasions. After the war the country had struggled to repay a large war debt and rebuild their industry and infrastructure. This time of deprivation and shame had an effect that lingered long after the country had been restored to the place of respect and dignity that it deserved.
Every time any visitor came, hospitality had to be extended that showed that there was no longer any shortage of food. The fried egg sandwiches and groaning table laid for 2 young people were a symbol that demonstrated the overcoming of such formidable obstacles by this proud people. This same attitude is evident in the wonderful hospitality of all Finnish people, even today.
Images ©Steven Kennard