Many people in my midcoast town don ’t realize that many of their forebearers were of Finnish decent. There is a road in town called Finntown Road, so it seems pretty clear to me! Then consider the legacy of Wyeth paintings with interesting Finnish models, which are known and treasured worldwide!
It was pointed out to me by an elderly but still vibrant Finnish gentleman that, if you know what you’re looking for, you can see many old and sometimes repurposed saunas on farmsteads up and down Finntown Road. Thinking back, some of my first Waldoboro memories are of being offered Pulla, a Finnish egg and cardamon rich braided Christmas bread by my restaurant baker, who was born here.
In the past several years I have gotten to be friends with a wonderful Finnish couple, Leo and Erja. Leo was born in NYC and Erja was born in Finland. But they live and love life as if in the old country. Traditional cooking, building, decor language and lifestyle all inherent in the way they live life. Daily winter sauna, dips in an icy hole in the lake afterwards, fish for breakfast and love of a hearty lifestyle,camping and wood heat. Their home is bright, clean and simple. Also build by Leo, as is their camp and sauna, road….you name it!
If you’re fortunate enough to have Finnish friends, you’ll experience real hospitality. And good, clean fun! To take a Finnish style sauna, you begin in the morning, after a hearty breakfast of soft cooked duck eggs, sautéed greens and smoked salmon…. and build a wood fire, which must be looked after all day. When you’ve brought plenty off water to the sauna and all your bathing/scrubbing accouterments, you strip down and relax. When the heat and scrubbing become too much,the icy lake beckons. Erja once achieved her 15 minutes of fame in Yankee magazine, photographed smiling while sitting on the side of a hole in the ice, legs dangling into the frigid water. There’s nothing like it for a good night’s sleep.
Researching the Finnish food faves, I realized that their native Bilberry is very similar to Maine’s wild blueberry and is used interchangeably. Blue through and through unlike our Blueberry, the Bilberry has double the antioxidants. It’s wonderful for eyesight, they say. Also similar to Maine’s woods culture is their Reindeer stew, called Karelian Stew, similar to Leo’s favorite venison stew which Erja makes so well and is popular in Maine with anyone who hunts. Leo is well into his 90’s and presents as a 70 year old man.
Happy, healthy, traditional. It’s a great way to go!