Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Make your own sima!

Sima is a low-alcohol sparkling mead that is traditionally associated with May Day in Finland. You can find it in for sale in the stores, but with a little bit of effort you can make your own. Homemade sima is far superior to the storebought variety.

A sima recipe:

You will need:

4 quarts of water
1.25 cups brown sugar
1.25 cups white sugar (if you want a darker sima, substitute the white sugar with brown sugar)
the juice of 2 lemons
1/5 tsp fresh yeast (a piece about the size of a fresh pea)

Bring half of the water to a boil in a kettle. Add the sugar and stir well. Add the rest of the water and the lemon juice. Let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm. Soak the yeast in a bit of the liquid and then add to the mixture and stir well. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for about 1 day.

Now it is time to transfer the mixture to bottles. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a few raisins to each bottle before adding the liquid. Cap the bottles - but not too tight! The fermentation process produces gases which need to get out of the bottles. If the caps are too tight you can end up with quite a mess on your hands.

When the raisins rise to the top of the bottles, the sima is done. At room temperature this should take about 3 days.

Sima is best when served chilled. Enjoy on May Day or at any time of the year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vappu/May Day

I've decided to do a re-run of my posts concerning Vappu (May Day) which I first published last year. This year (2010) Vappuaatto (May Day Eve) will be celebrated on Friday, and Vappu (May Day) will be celebrated on Saturday.

May Day Eve/Vappuaatto

After a final exam (Finnish to English Translation) I made my way downtown, where the Vappu festivities were already underway. Vendors' booths were already set up selling food as well as the usual carnival crap (counterfeit t-shirts, not-so-cheap cheap sunglasses, etc). As usual, click on pics to enlarge.

The pedestrian street in downtown Jyväskylä at approximately 1 in the afternoon. Please note that Spiderman has had a few too many already.

One of the finer street foods in Finland is the fried vendace aka muikku. The vendors fry them up with butter and salt in big pans, such as the one in the background of this photo.

A few moments later, and this delicious snack was annihilated. The vendace is a relative of the whitefish and is similar to the smelt in flavor.

Another shot of the pedestrian street.

May Day/Vappu

(Please note that this year (2010) May Day Eve is on Friday and May Day itself is on Saturday.)

This coming Friday all of Finland will be shut down to celebrate Vappu. Nobody will be at work other than bartenders, pizza makers, and cops. Vappu (or May Day) begins officially on Thursday, which is Vappuaatto. The celebration will continue until the wee hours of Saturday. Vappu promises to be especially festive this year since May Day falls on a Friday. Not terribly festive for me - yours truly will be working on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

One of the culinary traditions of Vappu is that of sima and tippaleipä. Sima is a type of low-alcohol mead flavored with lemon. Tippaleipä is a form of funnelcake. Sima and tippaleipä were originally a Vappu delicacy for the early nobility and well-to-do landowners of Finland. With the advent of affordable sugar, they were adopted by the rest of the people.

Store-bought sima from Vanhan Porvoon Fabriikki. 0.8% alcohol. You can make it yourself quite easily, I just didn't get around to it. Sima recipe here.

Tippaleipä. These were made by Elonen. Tippaleipä recipe here.

Vappu in Finland has its origins in Saint Walpurga, who was an English nun and missionary to what is now Germany, where she eventually became an Abbess. She is credited with, among other things, being the first female writer of England as well as Germany.

It should be noted that before Saint Walpurga, the Germanic pagans had a goddess of fertility named Waldborga whose feast day was the 1st of May, also know as the first day of summer.

Religious tradition in Finland forbade work on the 1st of May. However according to Finnish folk tradition, Vappu was a fortuitous day to begin plowing as well for letting the cows out to pasture. It became a worker's holiday in the late 1890's. It was only in 1944 that the Finnish government passed a law making Vappu a worker's holiday.

Vappu has been a student's celebration in one form or another since the 1700's. Today it appears to belong more to the students than the workers. Anyone who has graduated from Lukio has the right to wear their white graduation cap on Mayday. Students around the country arrange various festivities.

Vappu Dance at Vakiopaine

As usual, Vakiopaine will be hosting our annual May Day Dance, featuring the musical stylings of Ekman and Perälä. The bar will open at noon and the dance should start around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

A video of last years Vappu dance festivities:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

White Guard (Civil Guard) and Lotta Svärd Museum in Seinäjoki

I've spent a lot of time in Seinäjoki over the last few years but I had never visited the White Guard and Lotta Svärd Museum (Suojeluskunta -ja Lotta Svärd - Museo) until a few weeks ago.

The Lotta Svärd was a Finnish voluntary auxiliary paramilitary organization for Finnish women perhaps most remembered for their service during the Winter and Continuation wars. During the Finnish Civil War the Lottas were associated with the White Guard (suojeluskunta). Both organizations were disbanded according to the terms of the Finno-Soviet peace treaty following World War II.

The buildings housing the museum were designed by a young Alvar Aalto and built between 1924 and 1926 as a headquarters for the White Guard of South Ostrobothnia (Etelä-pohjanmaa). The interior of the museum is in near-original condition, just as it was in 1925. Photography inside the museum is forbidden so I don't have any photos of the interior details.

Admission fee is 2 Euros - 1 Euro for students

A couple of photos featuring the front of the main building:

A relief featuring the Lottas and the White Guard

A statue commemorating the White Guard

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An old train engine and something you probably don't want to drink

On my way to the studio last week I decided to take a few photos of the old train engine that is located down by the Matkakeskus (train/bus station) in Jyväskylä. This particular engine was, as far as I can tell, built in 1931 in Tampere.

In Finland, just like almost anywhere else in the world, the areas around train and bus stations are favorite gathering places for the dysfunctionally alcoholic - the particular breed of drunk who is no longer welcome in pubs or bars - known in Finnish as pultsari or puliukko.

These gentleman (and women) can also be seen engaging in alcohol consumption in parks, outside of shopping centers, and around corners where they are less likely to be spotted by police or security guards.

Now I'm not much of a wine connoisseur, but I'm guessing that if the bottle in the photo above (Last Mango - serve chilled - strong fruit wine - 15 % alcohol) was abandoned by the chronically alcoholic, it must not have much in the nose, palate, or finish departments. The color and clarity are outstanding though.

There is something to be said about an alcoholic beverage that is so horrible that a Finnish street bum won't finish off the bottle... This is pure speculation however, since I haven't tasted the beverage in question.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Finnish cultural assimilation lesson number 57 - alapesusuihku

Quite often new immigrants are confused about the mini-shower found in many Finnish restrooms, both public and private. My fellow immigrants, if you haven't already learned what this device is, let me give you a hint. It is not a drinking fountain.

The alapesusuihku is a handy innovation that you will find in practically every Finnish WC. Dish-sprayer meets bidet, giving one a chance to freshen up "down there" both safely and conveniently.

The butt sprayer usually uses the same plumbing as the bathroom sink. Turn on the water, adjust the temperature, grab the sprayer and engage in a bit of personal hygiene! You don't want to be known as the foreigner with the stinky posterior!

Close-up of the sprayer apparatus

This classic advertisement will give you an idea of how to use the alapesusuihku if my instructions didn't come through clear enough.

What an effective bit of advertising. It's no wonder that this handy innovation caught on so effectively here in Finland!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mämmi - Malted rye pudding

It came to my attention that I hadn't eaten mämmi for over 20 years. In other words, I had no idea what mämmi really tasted like.

Mämmi is a malted rye pudding flavored with orange peel that can be found easily at any grocery store for a few weeks before Easter. Much humor has been generated by its appearance alone. Plenty of other people have made scatological reference to mämmi already so I won't bother to do so myself.

Porkkamäki maalaismämmi - (Porkkamäki "country-style" mämmi)

Mämmi, up close and personal

We had a few non-Finnish guests over last night so we decided to serve mämmi (in addition to other things). I have to admit that I found it to be quite tasty in a malty rye with citrus highlights kind of way. All three of our guests liked it too, going so far as to have second helpings. By this informal survey we can conclude that 100 % of foreigners enjoy the taste of mämmi.

Mämmi is traditional served with sugar and cream. As I discovered last night, it also tastes pretty good all on its own.

Some stores actually carry mämmi in their freezer section year round. Perhaps the mämmi producers of Finland need to come up with a new advertising campaign: Mämmi - not just for Easter anymore.

Article about the Finnish Mämmi Association