Finland, a country of a thousand lakes and countless forests, long winters and sunny summers, is situated between Sweden and Russia and offers dishes both simple and refined.
The Christmas table is laid with fish dishes: lightly-salted raw salmon or pollan (whitefish), and different kinds of herring, including Baltic herring, in various sauces. Fish jelly has a quality similar to aspic. The roe of the pollan, whitefish or monkfish can hold its own against caviar. We must also mention dried cod, or lutefish: fish which has been soaked in a lye solution. It is cooked and served with white sauce and potatoes, seasoned with pepper and drizzled with melted butter.
The most important seasonal food is Christmas ham. Also on the table are sausages (a staple food for Finns, who say that a man is never too full to refuse a bit of sausage!), pâtés and gratins. Swede and potato casseroles have been part of the traditional Christmas fare in western Finland since the 18th century. Earlier the Christmas Eve meal also included stockfish and rice porridge, but today the various dishes are served over several days. For example, rice porridge is often served at lunchtime on Christmas Eve. Culinary traditions differ between eastern and western Finland. Western Finnish traditions have been influenced by Sweden and eastern ones by the region of Karelia.
Plums are often used in traditional desserts such as joulutorttu, flaky pastry baked with plum jam. Making a gingerbread house is also part of Christmas preparations.
It seems as if everything stops in Finland on December 24: restaurants close, and public transport comes to a halt. As in the Middle Ages, the Christmas break is proclaimed from Turku, the ancient capital, in a symbolic ceremony that holds great importance for the Finns. It is not until St. Stephen's Day, December 26, that the country comes back to life.
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