Bread was Facebook of the 1930's

November 30, 2015

Kakko, ruisleipä and pulla
- the breads of Metsämäki Farm in the 1930's

My grandmother's sister, Tyyne Metsämäki, recalled baking bread for the first time at the age of ten in the 1930's. She was born in Huittinen, a small agrarian village in Satakunta, the oldest historical province in Finland, located on the southwest coast of Finland. 'Kakko' (basic white sourdough bread) and 'ruisleipä' (rye bread) were typical breads of the region.

Rye bread was eaten at mealtimes. Kakko was part of breakfast or coffee break. Fresh buns were the delicacy of Sundays. Good housewives were always prepared for unexpected visitors too. They had rusks (twice-baked buns known as 'vieraskorppu') for the neighbors and strangers who stopped by the farm. 

Home-baked bread was the rule. Crispbread, which was a commercial bread, was a rarity. Tyyne was in her teens when she bite crispbread for the first time.

Sunday treat

If the work load at the farm allowed, the weekly baking day was Friday or Saturday. This meant fresh bread for Sunday. 

But, it all started in the middle of the week, when someone carried flour sacks from the cold granary to the warm kitchen. All flours were homegrown. Every two weeks one of the men took a horse and drove to the Korkiakoski Mill, which grinded the grains of the farm to bread flours and animal feed.  

In the evening women took out a large, poorly scraped wooden baking bowl and mixed some flour and water in it. The dried dough from the previous baking day on the sides of the bowl worked as a sourdough starter, when the bowl was covered with a cloth and let stand in a warm place. The starter dough was ready in two days. If the weather was cold, as it often was, it was difficult to start the process. It was time to put some commercial yeast into the starter dough. If it was late, the grocery was closed. Fortunately, the local shop owner let bakers come to his home and led them through his kitchen to the grocery and sold them the much-needed yeast.

Couple of days later, early in the morning, 2 – 3 women started to bake by pouring two buckets of water (20 liters) into the baking bowl. Then, no measures, just the rule of thumb when they were measuring flour and salt. Sometimes they added some anise seeds into the dough, but spices were valuable rarities because they were something they had to buy. Honey, syrup or other sweeteners were never used.

The dough was huge, but one vigorous baker tackled the task all by herself. It wasn't customary to take turns.

Tyyne always shaped some pieces of the dough into loaves "because they tasted better, or so we all thought", but most of the dough were shaped into round, more or less flat breads with holes in the middle to facilitate storage on long poles hanging near the ceiling. This was understandable because they baked four bread boards in a day and one board took 30 breads, total 120 breads per day. An inconvenient place to store the breads? Not really, some breads were always stored in the plaited root basket in the red kitchen cabinet, where they were easily available.

Baking oven baked 30 breads in one go 

The wood-fired brick oven was heated with two chambers of wood. If the oven was "lazily heated" they threw bunch of birch leaf fodders into the chamber, after which the kitchen smelled great.  

When the coals were swept out and the chamber was cleaned with a birch twig broom, it was time to bake the first test breads. An experienced baker was usually capable of estimating the heat of the oven and the first batch of breads went into the oven right after the test breads. If the oven was too hot, it was swept with a wet broom before the breads on the first board were loaded into the oven. 

In the Autumn fish dealers were driving around countryside from one farm to the next selling salted Baltic herring in barrels. It was a valued delicacy, which explains the fact that almost every baking day the last bread they took out of the oven was the Baltic herring bread. In the falling heat of the bread oven they cooked rosolli casseroles, potato casseroles with Baltic herring, Karelian hot pots and pearl barley porridges. Two weeks before Christmas men slaughtered a pig during the baking day and women made sausages stuffed with pork and pearl barley.

There were no such thing as food waste 

There were lots of workers on the farm, the regular maids and farmhands as well as occasional hired workers in harvesting and other labour-intensive agricultural production phases. It was quite common that there were 20, often more, eaters around the table.

Bread was an integral part of every meal and 120 breads were quickly dwindling away.It was common to put butter and fried pork on the bread. "Lettuce was for sheep". Cucumbers and tomatoes were not eaten until the 1950's, when they started to grow these vegetables on the farm. Fresh cheese was placed on the plate, not on the bread. 

There were no such thing as food waste. If there sometimes were a bread or two left on the next baking day, they were treats for horses and cows. 

Bread and hospitality  

Freshly baked bread was an essential part of hospitality. Workers often got a warm bread for their families. Two neighbors got three breads each and "father always took a bread for the shoemaker, who lived at a distance from us". If somebody unexpectedly dropped in on the baking day, they got a bread too. 

Not a day went by without guests and visitors when harvesting and other autumn tasks were done. The weeks before Christmas were particularly buzy, because it was important to spin all the linen before the New Year. But, they went to see neighbors and received guests all the time anyway. Guests were welcome delays. It was time to put a coffeepot on the stove, serve kakko and rusks and talk through the latest news from the village.

Nobody was left without freshly baked bread. Old and sick people who lived alone and others who were unable to bake got bread from their neighbors. If someone didn't want to depend on neighbors, Iita Paunu, a well-know village banquet caterer, came over to their house to bake bread for them.

Bread was the Facebook of the 1930's, a social networking service, which brought family, friends, acquaintances and strangers together and provided them with a possibility to communicate and tell the latest news. 

Chain of bakers

When I'm baking I have this lovely feeling of being part of the long chain of bakers in my family. I started to bake with my granny at the age of five and now I'm baking with my 6-year-old son, who loves to bake.  

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6 kommenttia

  1. Thank you for sharing.I am an old soul...I loved your telling of the dedication ,love and working together to provide the family and community bread. I hope you are well and Iife is a little easier for you. God Bless

    1. I hope you are well too. Life was so different then. They had many blessings which are rare today and we have ours.

  2. What a beautiful piece of Finnish bread making tradition and history! Thank you for sharing! It's crazy how much has changed in so little time... The current Facebook (or WhatsApp) generation probably know next to nothing about this earlier version of social networking.

  3. "Guests were welcome delays." - I love that line. I have folks drop by our farm and it is exactly as you describe from years ago. My town, Willsboro, feels more of a village than a town because of it's strong community feeling. Your article here is from a time that we are slowly returning to in our present time. It's a great time to be alive and be among people whom appreciate the hard work and slow pace of farm life. Plus, everyone loves real bread baked in a wood-fired oven!

  4. Jarkko and Dan, I hope we still have some community feeling left in our lives. And, if we are lucky, it's getting stronger.