Homemade: Finnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients from My Life in Food is a memoir by Beatrice Ojakangas featuring her experiences growing up in a large Finnish family in northern Minnesota. Along with stories and memories of her life, Beatrice also shares 42 of her most memorable recipes including Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Coffee Bread), Orange Date-Nut Cake, Leipäjuusto (Finnish Baked Cheese), Stroganoff Burger, Mustikkapiirakka (Finnish Blueberry Bars), Burnt Sugar Ice Cream, Cream of Morel Soup, Swedish Prince’s (Princess) Cake, and Finnish Rye Bread.
Beatrice Ojakangas is a food writer from Minnesota. She studied home economics at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, Cooking Light, and a variety of newspapers. She is also the author of twenty-nine cookbooks and was inducted in 2005 to the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame.
The chapters are made up of short stories from Beatrice’s life and are divided into two parts. Part I: My Paternal Grandparents: A Story of Commitment and Perseverance; My Maternal Grandparents: A Story of Famine, Fire, and Fear; First Names First; Growing Up on a Farm in Northern Minnesota; Salt Cake; There Were Ten of Us; Being Finnish; Sunday Services at Uncle Frank’s; Summers on the Farm; Swimming; Cows in Wintertime; Venison; Visits from Aunts and Uncles; My Twelfth Birthday; No Recipe Needed; Feed Sack Fashion; Hired Men; Christmas Trees; Some Stories are Hard to Tell; Vesala; Floodwood, My Hometown; Lincoln School in Floodwood; Anne Brown’s Beauty Parlor; Town Kids versus Country Kids; Seeds for a Bible; Heaven and How to Get There; Confirmation in the Finnish Lutheran Church; Till the Cows Come Home; The End-of-Summer Prize; and Bake to the State Fair. Part II: Becoming a Home Economist; A Turn in the Road; My First Taste of Gourmet Food; My “Toast in the Morning Man;” The Pillsbury Bake-Off; A Year in Finland; Stories from Finland; Sunset Magazine; A Marriage Encounter with Moussaka; A Food Writer and a Mom; Welcome Back to Duluth; Somebody’s House; Jeno and the Big Idea; Two Years at Vocational School; Cooking School in the South of France with Simca; Nice is Nice; The Seven-Course Morel Festival Meal; In the Kitchen with Julia Child; On TV with Martha Stewart; Peachie, the Butter Spokesperson; Cookie Questions; The Great River Road; The Butter Churn and MY Beloved Mom; Twenty-Nine Cookbooks and Counting- All of them “Pot Boilers;” Cooking in a Church Kitchen (Bring Sharp Knives!); and Summing It Up.
I first learned about Beatrice Ojakangas when I came across her book, The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, in 2012 (it was published in 1988, paperback in 1999). It was my first introduction to Scandinavian cooking and has become quite an asset. This is just one of the many incredible books she has created from her first, The Finnish Cookbook (first published in 1964 and now in its 38th printing), to her latest minus this one, The Soup & Bread Cookbook (2013).
Beatrice begins with a history on her four grandparents that immigrated from Finland and the lives of her parents. You will also learn about each of her 9 siblings, daily life growing up on a farm, and even how she learned to make clothing from feed sacks. She also shares her experiences that helped shape her career from college classes while studying to become a home economist and winning cooking competitions to spending a year in Finland that led to the creation of her first cookbook, owning a restaurant, and cooking with Julia Child and Martha Stewart.
I loved the glimpses into her first cooking experiences, particularly how she added too much salt to a cake as a child after forgetting the sugar. I did something similar when I made cookies for the first time on my own around the age of 6 and switched the two ingredients by adding 1 cup of salt to the dough and only 1/4 teaspoon sugar.
Most of the chapters end with a recipe or two. The measurements are listed in US Customary. While no photos accompany the recipes, there are notable photos from Beatrice’s life in black and white scattered across the pages.
This book is a great pick for those interested in cooking-based memoirs. It is an easy read for traveling or just wanting to relax at the end of the day as you learn about Beatrice’s life, from her childhood on a small northern Minnesota farm as the oldest of ten siblings to studying home economics at the University of Minnesota Duluth and meeting her husband to her rise as a food writer. Most of the recipes focus on homestyle cooking with ingredients that are readily available in the average American grocery store.
I have been baking quite a few cookies lately for the holiday season. I love the variety of flavors and shapes that come with cookies, but my son definitely does not. He isn’t generally a fan of chocolate and doesn’t enjoy the texture of chopped ingredients. He loves simple cookies the best and these sugar cookies definitely did not disappoint. Of all the cookies I have made this month, these were Evan’s favorite. They are sweet and soft with a little tang from the buttermilk. The rounds of dough are stamped with the bottom of a sugar-coated water glass before baking to help add a little crispness to the top.
These sugar cookies are adapted from a recipe from Beatrice’s step-grandmother. Her step-grandmother, Helena Lindgren, was a Finnish “mail order bride” who had chef’s training in Helsinki. She had a cookbook from Helsinki that was published in 1909 with the pages written in English on one side and Finnish on the other. Helena wrote notes in the pages including additional recipes along the margins. One was for “Zugar Gukis,” Helena’s phonetic spelling of Sugar Cookies (she also had others such as “Bunsk Kaik” for Sponge Cake).
Beatrice includes the original recipe, which had no instructions for assembly and the ingredients listed in weight and glass measurements, along with her adaptation.
I also made Lattyja (Thin Finnish Pancakes), Country Carrot Meatloaf, Almond Cardamom Scones, and Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Lattyja are thin Finnish pancakes, also known as flapjacks. A basic pancake batter is created by whisking together flour, butter, eggs, a little sugar and salt, and milk/buttermilk, then allowing to rest for an hour. The batter is poured into a hot skillet and cooked until golden. I served them with blueberries and a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. They can also be made into a dessert with berries and whipped cream. Beatrice notes that the batter can also be made the night before and refrigerated for an even easier start in the morning.
The Country Carrot Meatloaf was actually my first time making meatloaf. This one was extra moist thanks to the addition of shredded carrots and packed with flavor. Ground beef (or venison or bison) is combined with soaked breadcrumbs, carrots, onion, and eggs. I particularly loved the addition of the vegetables for the kids. This recipe also comes together easily, is topped with a sweetened ketchup mustard glaze, and baked for about an hour until cooked through.
The Almond Cardamom Scones are perfect as a part of breakfast or tea. These drop scones are flavored with freshly ground cardamom and chopped almonds. They were also a great activity to cook with the kids, especially since the shaping only required using an ice cream scoop to drop the batter onto the baking sheets.
Sometimes you just want a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies and Beatrice’s definitely did not disappoint. These cookies are perfect for the holiday baking season with semisweet chocolate chips and chopped pecans (or walnuts). Beatrice also includes tips for making the perfect cookies including butter versus shortening, the use of baking powder and baking soda, and which baking sheets are the best for even browning.
Disclaimer: I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from University of Minnesota Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Grandmother’s Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Homemade
~4 dozen cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Extra granulated sugar for topping
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease.
In a large bowl, beat together the 1 cup sugar and butter until creamy and smooth. Beat in the egg until light.
In another bowl, combine the flour and baking soda. Add 1/3rd of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then 1/2 of the buttermilk, another third of the flour, remaining buttermilk and vanilla, and remaining flour to create a stiff dough.
Shape a piece of dough the size of a walnut into a circle and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with more pieces of dough, placing them two inches apart.
Fill a shallow bowl with water and another bowl with extra sugar. Dip the bottom of a water glass into the water, then the sugar to coat. Stamp each cookie, dipping the glass in water and sugar as needed, to flatten them into circles 2 1/2-3 inches wide.
Bake in preheated oven until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough to make about 4 dozen cookies.