Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Rooting for Food

A short piece about a cookbook and its historic look at the food, lifestyle and war in Finland between 1939 and 1945. Reviewed by Chris Yli-Luoma.

When I was last in Thunder Bay I stopped at a local bookstore and picked up a copy of Raili Garth and Kaarina Brooks spiral bound, 154-page book titled “Rooting for Food” – Nutritious Finnish Vegetable Recipes from the Lean War Years. I have dozens of cookbooks. Yet, I’m always happy to add in new ones.

It is a cookbook, but it is also a historic look at what life was like during the turbulent war years, 1939 – 1945, for the Finns. The authors used excerpts from letters, biographies, and memoirs, combined with visuals from the war. They created a very vivid picture of the difficult and challenging life faced by the Finns during those years. The notes, scattered throughout the book, spoke of rations, travel approvals, the importance of mail, and making do with so very little.

The overlaying and crisscrossing of war moments and its impact on the lives of individuals and families, along with practival recipes and the commentary about the normal everyday activities had a sobering effect on me. You can see why sisu is at the heart and soul of the Finnish DNA.

The first war reference is on Nov 30, 1939. The Soviet Union attacked Finland, without a declaration of war with 450,00 men vs fewer than 200,000 Finns. And the final note, April 27, 1945: Last shots of WW II on Finnish side are fired. By then, the Lapland War and the Finnish participation in WW II are over.

There are over 60 recipes ranging from bone soup to breads made using potato, carrots, nettle and vegetable-based recipes using cabbage, beets, mushrooms, onions, and other vegetables. A recipe is presented first in Finnish, then translated to English and finally, with the help of many recipe testers, a tried-and-true recipe, adapted to our current kitchens.

What I find fascinating is how some of these items resonate with many of us today. Let’s look at bone broth. Health, wellness, and fitness communities have been making a fuss about bone broth for years. Many claim it has made them feel healthier. Meanwhile, during the Finnish wars, bone broth was an essential part of their diet.

Plus, no part of the animal was wasted - from tripe to the intestines to the bones, they all ended up being utilized. Food waste was a hot issue then and now.

There is a recipe for nettle bread with yeast, salt, caraway seeds and rye flour and rosehip soup – these are the only two recipes that were not tested.

As more people explore plant-based foods in their diet, recipes like the Oven-baked carrot pancake and Carrot pudding might be worthy dishes to try out. Given the limited ingredients that were available, and the lack of spices, there was a wide range of stomach filling recipes created.

If you are watching your budget, these recipes do show you want can be made with very few ingredients. Take the under-rated cabbage.  Recipes include browned cabbage soup, mention of cabbage milk, delicious cabbage (an entrĂ©e dish), mushroom and cabbage rolls and oven-baked cabbage.

Mail was essential during the war. It helped to keep up the morale of the soldiers and connected those left behind.  There are many letters mentioning items ranging from baloney to cheese, being mailed. Travel bans were in place as well as ration coupons. The rationing of food and various goods (for example, shoes and clothing) started on October 7, 1939 and lasted until 1949. That is 10 years.  You could be jailed for bypassing the ration rules and acquiring goods on the black market.

Liisa: I won’t mail you the pillow yet, because I will try to add some cloudberries, that you can preserve. Now if I could just figure out a way so that they won’t leak into the pillow during the trip.

Children also helped during the war efforts and there was a group know as the Pikkulotat or the Little Lottas which were girls from the age of 8-17. I’m curious to know more about the Lotta Sward Organization which was disbanded in 1944 as specified in the terms of the peace agreement with Russia.

Here are some examples of comments that are sprinkled throughout the book.  

Taimi: Lottas made soup for members of the National Guard. We also knit socks, scarves, shawls and mittens, which had a special finger for the trigger.

Sirkka: I was 8 years old when I became a Pikkulotta. During the winter we piled wood in the forest and in the fall we picked potatoes and collected heads of grain that had fallen to the floor. We sang patriotic songs and were taught to honor our parents and love our country.

Liisa: Tytti, who is 4, sleeps well through the night now and during the day is busy picking mushrooms and berries. Tytti loves to pick mushrooms and I am so glad that she enjoys picking them by herself and she even brings the right kind home.

Other items highlighted include reindeer with a sleigh used by the Finnish army in Lapland, direct blood donations to soldiers, and instructions on how to make a haybox cooker.

It certainly makes me very aware, that while we are facing higher food prices in Canada, our lives are so much easier. And it saddens me to think about what is happening in the Ukraine and Russia right now as history gets repeated.  If you are interested in the book, please contact Kaarina Brooks brooks.kaarina @ gmail.com (remove spaces)The cost is $20.00 including shipping and handling.

No comments:

Post a Comment