Mutual Appreciation

Photograph by John Short

Big hand, little hand—when Mother Russia casts her glance westward

The definition of Finlandisation, a somewhat pejorative term, is thus: “the tendency of a small state to shape its foreign policy so as to accommodate a much more powerful neighbour.” While Finland may have, at one time, adjusted its political identity to suit its Slavic sibling, the influence of Mother Russia is not nearly as pervasive, gustatorily, as one might think. The Finns gained independence from their eastern overlords in 1917, but several subtle signs of a Slavic resistance have shown up from time to time. From the Finnish love of mushrooms—a delicacy that much of Scandinavia took time to acquire a taste for—to a predilection for roes and caviars, their neighbour’s most indelible mark is delivered in the form of certain pastries, breads and pies from the eastern Karelia region of Finland.

The Karelian pasty, with its myriad fillings, is much like its Russian cousin, the kulebiaka pie. Traditionally made with a rye crust, the modern version uses a combination of wheat and rye, with fillings as numerous as you like. Another unique recipe, loosely taking a cue from Russian tradition, is the kalakukko pie from the inland Savo province. Kalakukko at first appears to be a dense loaf of rye bread, but slice off the top and the warm interior of vendace (or lake perch) and strips of fatty pork are revealed. Baked slowly and at a low temperature, the contents remain moist, and are best eaten with nothing more than butter and a touch of salt for seasoning. Proof perhaps that the idea of Finlandisation need not be so negative after all.