Food for thought

23 July 2009 | In the news

Dinner coming up: a surprise soup?

Dinner in a dash: surprise soup?

The flow of cookbooks into bookshops has recently – and universally – slowed down a little, as the internet provides more and more recipes for those wishing to experiment with cuisine.

A book of a more unusual kind, however, was published recently: Sattumasoppaa. Pulavuosien parhaat palat (‘Surprise soup. Choicest morsels of the slump’, Tammi, 2008) by Hanna Pukkila goes back to the years when coffee, sugar, milk, butter, meat, bread and even grain disappeared or became very scarce in shops and in people’s kitchens due to the long years of war, and after.

In 1939 the Winter War against the Soviet Union broke out, and before hostilities began again in 1941, severe droughts damaged harvests; in addition, after the Winter War, a tenth of Finland’s field area had been yielded to the Soviet Union as reparations.

So people had to invent ersatz grub: butter was mixed with cooked potatoes or carrots, flour was made of leaves (‘almost any that can be found will do’), ‘whipped cream’ was made of flour, water and a spoonful of sugar, ‘coffee’ of chicory or sugarbeet, ‘drinking chocolate’ of ground, roasted acorns.

Nettles, mushrooms and berries were collected assiduously. Swedes, cabbage and turnips became staple foods, and a baked, stuffed pumpkin replaced Christmas ham.

The years of austerity came to an end only in 1954, when Finns finally regained the unlimited use of real coffee.

A dessert recipe from Sattumasoppaa instructs: ‘take a large bowlful of pure driven snow, drip carefully, drop by drop, one to two cups of diluted berry syrup into it and sprinkle a little sugar on top.’

Even during those culinary hard times when not much was really what it was called, this went by the name of ‘Syrup snow, or a frivolous dessert’.