Breakfast Corn Cakes; or, This Isn’t Really About the Corn Cakes

After a long hiatus, Mrs. Hindle is back, dear readers! What can I say? I am a master procrastinator. Recently I’ve binge watched a YouTube channel that does all the stuff I’d like to do if I had the slightest skill with video. I don’t, though, so I decided to get back to writing and if you need something to watch, look no further than Tasting History with Max Miller.

I have lots of interesting new cook books to share with you, dear reader, which is a nice thing, isn’t it? Today I’m making a soft start with an easy recipe for “Breakfast corn cakes”.

What makes the recipe special is not so much the contents but rather the book it was published in. As you can see there are two paragraphs side by side. It’s the same text in Finnish and English, because today’s recipe comes from a 1923 edition of the Finnish-American Home Cook Book.

Publisher’s info. Duluth haunts me

Like so many other countries in Europe, the Finland of a century ago saw a steady stream of people leaving across the Atlantic in search of a better life. The first Finns emigrated to North America as early as the 17th century. One of the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence, John Morton, was the great-grandson of Martti Marttinen who left Finland in 1654. Emigration picked up speed as connections got better towards the end of the 19th century, and between 1893 and 1907 some 200.000 people left Finland for the USA and Canada. That’s a lot of people when the country only had a population of 2,5 million.

Take a break from the history for a minute and grab your ingredients.

For some reason Finns left the cold, dark forests of home and settled in… well, cold, dark forests. Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario, and of course Minnesota, the home of today’s recipe book. Duluth, Minnesota had a thriving Finnish publishing scene where books mingled with newspapers, some of them quite revolutionary.

The first decades of the 20th century saw a great deal of political activity in Finland culminating in a civil war in 1918. It seems the emigrants took their political erudition with them, because Finns became active in multiple labor unions in the US, primarily the Industrial Workers of the World or IWW. Several newspapers supporting the cause, for example Industrialisti, were published in Finnish in Duluth. In between they also churned out novels, history books and obviously cook books.

Duluth has a population of some 85.000 people today, which I think is a lie because I keep meeting people from Duluth (I think I’m up to five by now) and the only rational explanation I can think of is that Duluth is actually the biggest city in the US or possibly the only city in the US. That, or Duluth really does haunt me.

Mix your dry ingredients while you ponder the impossibility of really truly knowing the size of a place you’ve never seen yet know five people from. I mean, México City supposedly has almost 9 million people and I haven’t met a single one.

So, these countrymen of mine, moving to a whole new continent, would have been quite lost. They would have had access to a rudimentary education in Finland making them literate, but foreign languages were not in the curriculum. And that’s where our little cook book comes into the picture. Written for Finnish immigrants, it doesn’t have any unnecessary frills like an introduction, pictures, menus or even a detailed index. What it does have is recipes in two languages to help navigate the new foodstuffs our intrepid cook came in contact with. Indian meal, for instance, like in these pancakes. Definitely not a thing in Finland.

Take a break while your tousle-headed assistant works the milk, cream and eggs into the mix.

Perhaps the most charming part of this cook book is the vocabulary at the back. To help the confused homemakers with their daily chores, their shopping, perhaps to help them chat with the neighbors, the book comes with several pages of household-related vocabulary and a phonetic pronunciation guide that will only really make sense if you’re Finnish.

Foods and how to pronounce them. Some concepts are so unfamiliar that the author isn’t sure what to make of them. Thus, “meal meat” is translates as “food made of flour”.

The strange new vocabulary shows up in the recipes too. Finnish has no word for “pint”, and so whenever that amount is called for, they just make up a new word – “paintti” – adding a Finnish-sounding suffix to the English word.

I truly can’t express how adorable the pronunciation guide is. Colander is also a new word and gets a detailed description (“wheel-shaped sieve with widely spaced holes”).

The Finns who moved to the US quickly developed their own pidgin mix of Finglish which I believe some of the older generation still speaks. Whoever owned this book before me was well on her (or his) way to this pidgin as well. I know, because all the way at the back of the book is one handwritten recipe for some sort of sweet bun – I haven’t been able to decipher the full recipe yet.

The ingredients are in Finnish, but the measurements – quart, kup and pound – are in English.

This post ended up being more about the book than the recipe. But there was nothing tricky about it! Just mix and fry. And this book is so fascinating. I believe I will return to it sometime soon.

Served with that most Finnish of condiments, strawberry jam.

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