Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bake. Hope. Eat it anyway.

I have only one Finnish cookbook, so it’s good that I’m only a quarter Finnish. One cookbook can get me through three months of cooking; although, by the end of those three months, I had pretty much cooked everything I had wanted to, multiple times. It’s Beatrice Ojakangas’ Finnish Cookbook and it was first published in 1964. It’s stayed in print but I’m pretty sure hasn’t been updated at all. Since finding a Finnish cookbook is not easy, and this is the one I grew up with, it was pretty much my Bible for three months.

Two of the Italian cookbooks I used were older, too. The more I use older cookbooks, the more I understand why so many people feel like they can’t cook. Before I undertook this endeavor, I mostly used the latest edition of the Joy of Cooking and, both of which have very clear, explicit directions.

Older cookbooks, on the other hand, are at once more detailed and more vague. One of the Italian cookbooks called specifically for a “fryer” in the chicken cacciatora recipe. But then it also told me to cook until “done.” I don’t think I’ve ever noticed whether a bird is a “fryer” or not, and if I’m a novice cook, how am I supposed to know when something is “done”?

I didn’t feel that way with Beatrice’s book for a long time. Like I said, it was the Finnish cookbook I grew up with.  There were only a few recipes in it that my mom made, but they always came out great. I had faith in it.

As I started my three month long stint, my faith was strong. I started with my favorites, variations on the piirakkaa, which is a Finnish pasty. Oh, it was wonderful! I moved on to a few meat dishes (you’ve already read about the lamb stew). Things were great.

Carrot piirakkaa with egg butter

Then I found the recipe for patakukko, or fish pot pie. It had a rye crust and three ingredients for the filling: whole trout, bacon, and salt. The recipe called for it to bake for a total of six hours and then to rest for another. Oh, how patakukko intrigued me! The time commitment prohibited me from pursuing it for many weeks. But finally, an appropriate weekend arrived and, with the help of my husband (fish completely freak me out), I assembled the dish, popped it in the oven, and because it seemed wrong to enjoy something that took so long to bake by ourselves, invited a couple of friends over, one of whom also has Finnish heritage.

Bacon + trout = patakukko

It baked and baked. We waited and tidied. Our friends arrived.

Finally, time was up, the table was set, and our appetites were whetted. I took my knife and attempted to slice through the crust. Not quite a rock. Leather, maybe? But more durable. The filling was flavorless and dry. We did our best to find nourishment in the meal, but it was tough. Literally. We came to the collective conclusion that I should have used a deeper dish (the directions said “three quart casserole” but no dimensions).

Six hours of baking does this

And that’s the difficulty with these older books. They were written in a time where assumptions were more acceptable. When people learned from their mother or grandmother or at least from experience. I guess cooks were expected to know certain things that have gotten lost in our convenience-driven society.

The hardest part of the patakukko was the waiting. There was absolutely nothing to be done but to be patient. Cooking has definitely taught me a lot of patience, but that patience has brought success time and time again. This time, though, my patience realized only failure. Not failure of my skills. Just failure that it wasn’t meant to be.

And sometimes, that’s what’s meant to be.


  1. A brave and stalwart soul, trying such a recipe. Perhaps you will be willing to try my grandmother's beef and fish salad sometime. I look at it and wonder, but haven't worked up my courage.

  2. glad to see you're posting again! i guess i get to practice patience waiting for you to blog. =)

    this is such a strange recipe - it would be interesting to see what it would be like if it were done successfully - i can't quite put it all together in my head.

    i've heard that recipes written for a french audience are similarly vague as the "old time" recipes to which you refer. interesting....

  3. Wow, beef and fish salad! In a few more months, I will get it from you, Mom!

    Vagueness is silly. Glad you are patient! Maybe I will attempt the fish pie again when you visit sometime in the future... ;)