In 1888, Jeremiah Kautonen took one look at the Qu'Appelle Valley and thought of home. The water and the woods reminded him of Finland. He built a log house and wrote a letter encouraging his friends to join him. Before long, the area was known as New Finland, the first Finnish settlement on the prairies.
Typical of the time, they relied on wild foods such as fish, deer, rabbits, prairie chickens and berries, especially high bush cranberries. They crushed wheat for porridge and grew root vegetables for winter meals.
One settler, Johan Lauttamus, built a mill from two heavy stones and ground whole wheat flour for the community. They were skilled cattlemen and the women made excellent butter, which they traded in town for basic groceries. Unique was their love of Finnish yogurt, which they called viili.
According to Hazel Lauttamus Birt, who wrote a history of New Finland, the starter culture was mailed from the Old Country: "A piece of clean cotton was soaked in the Viili and dried for mailing. When added to fresh milk and set aside overnight it re-activated."
She also writes about Finnish bread, which was flavoured with crushed cardamom and fortified with eggs and butter. The basic dough was used for buns, coffee bread, cinnamon rolls, fruit "pies" and Sauna Buns, which were eaten after the weekly sauna on Saturday night.
Pulla (Coffee Bread)
2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 c scalded milk, cooled
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
4–5 c flour
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c coarse sugar
1/4 c sliced almonds
Dissolve yeast in warm water until frothy. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs and 1 c flour. Beat smooth with electric mixer. Beat in another 1 1/2 c flour. Add butter and beat until glossy.
Add more flour, using only as much needed to make a supple dough that does not stick to the fingers. Let dough rest 15 minutes.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8–10 minutes, or knead with an electric dough hook for 8 minutes.
Put dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Press dough with your fist to deflate. Cut in half and cut each half into 3 equal pieces.
Roll each piece under your palms into a "rope" of about 16 inches (40 cm). Braid three ropes together, forming two loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size.
Brush the loaves with egg and sprinkle with sugar and almonds. Bake at 400F for 25–30 minutes.
You'll find more Finnish recipes transplanted to Saskatchewan on the website of Life in the New Finland Woods Vol. 1.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)