As the world yearns for the relative normality of December 2019, we share the story of a spectacular feast whose memory is all the more sweeter a year later.
Dedicated to our boundary blurring and food fixations, here at Cultures Capsules, it’s probably not surprising that our site designer and developer Oskari is Finnish, living in the UK, and also cranks out all sorts of amazing food for fun.
Christmas 2019 fell in the middle of the major redesign of our website (and doesn’t it look amazing – thanks, Oskari!), and Oskari shared the details of the epic, four-way fusion feast that he conceived of and planned along with his girlfriend Helen.
It was not only an impressive spread, but also quite intentional and meaningful in its design, rendering it an exceptionally memorable “the perfect Christmas celebration,” as all attendees agreed.
And then 2020 happened. Even early in the year, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the globe, so many of us held out hope that just maybe things would clear up by Christmas so that we could gather with near and dear. As we know, that didn’t happen.
So, the memories of their perfect Christmas crystalized into diamond status, as his family realized that not only would it not be possible to join around a table together for Christmas, but there would be one less soul in attendance.
Our family still talks about how perfect that Christmas was in every way, including in no small part, timing. Especially so, now that grandpa’s longtime illness has led him to hospice care as of this week – we’re very glad to have had such a perfect Christmas while we all still could.Oskari G., November 2020
This portrait celebrates their spectacular melange of a Christmas feast, enjoyed by three generations together around an actual table, in 2019. It captures sweet intentions behind each aspect of the menu, inspiring us to take the time to do the same on our own holiday spreads. It also shares some family recipes for some Finnish Christmas staples and provides a tutorial on Finnish holiday music.
Finnish Christmas Tunes
As usual, let’s start with the music. Just press play to get festive straight away.
When it comes to Finnish Christmas songs, there are many – both the perennial American/British Christmas songs with Finnish lyrics – as well as Finnish originals. Most Christmas songs (regardless of country, I find) tend to be really gaudily jolly, which is something my mom lives for, and I’ve grown to… dis-appreciate over the years. The Finnish Christmas songs I do like tend to be too bleak or subtle for my mom’s taste. To sidestep this musical rift in the family, we opted for the shrink-wrapped factory-farmed cocktail jazz edition that nobody can have any strong opinions about.
We captured the ones he shared below in a Spotify Playlist (bleak though some may be), and below he has translated the names of them to English, and provided explanations for some as well:
- Jäätyneet juuret (Frozen Roots)
- Sylvian joululaulu (Sylvia’s Christmas Song)
- Sydämeeni joulun teen (I Make a Christmas In My Heart)
- Varpunen jouluaamuna (Sparrow on Christmas Morning)
- Tule joulu kultainen (Come a Christmas Golden)
- En etsi valtaa loistoa (I Seek No Reign Nor Glory)
- Maa on niin kaunis (Earth Is So Beautiful)
- On hanget korkeat nietokset (Snow is Piled High)
- Joulumaa (Christmas Land)
- Sinivuorten yö (Night of the Blue Mountains)
… and for extra credit, you can study the list of originally Finnish songs here on Wikipedia,
Five course, Four-way Fusion Feast
So how did it all come to be? Oskari tells us it was two months in the making, with many many lists and spreadsheets via Notion. The three casseroles are very traditional Finnish Christmas dishes and his mom Pirjo has graciously shared her recipes for them. Below Oskari also shares a bit more about how each item came to be included on the menu.
To begin with, he notes that in Finland, typically the whole Christmas meal is a huge buffet all in one go, but that wasn’t so feasible in his small Cambridge kitchen. Instead, they opted for a more traditional multi-course affair.
- Fortnum & Mason antipasti olives – Olives were a particular favourite of my granddad (and nobody else in this family!), so we made sure to get the finest olives in the land for him.
- Scottish Spey Bay smoked salmon – Salmon, although a different kind, is also common on Finnish Christmas tables. When the feast transformed from buffet to courses, it was decided to include the salmon as an appetizer.
- Homemade Nigerian chin-chin – The appetizer course was looking a bit thin with just salmon and bread, so Helen made her chin-chin to give the whole dinner a Nigerian twist.
The breads were each a special order from a local bakery called Stir, which we only knew of since one of our neighbours Lady Berridge often enjoys her breakfast there
- British white sourdough loaf
- British treacle & rye sourdough loaf
- Finnish rye bread rounds
- British Oakham turkey crown with a pork sage and onion stuffing, with de-boned stuffed thighs wrapped in maple cured bacon – The turkey is of course the British Christmas staple (in Finland we usually have a huge ham instead), so when in Rome and all that.
- Homemade Finnish carrot casserole – A non-negotiable for a Finnish Christmas meal.
- Homemade Finnish malted potato casserole – A non-negotiable for a Finnish Christmas meal.
- Homemade Finnish swede casserole – A non-negotiable for a Finnish Christmas meal.
- Homemade Finnish “rosolli” side salad – Rosolli is another classical Finnish staple – not my particular favourite, but so dead simple to make that it was more of a “might as well” addition.
- New potatoes
- Fortnum’s Côte du Rhône 2015 – This had to be included simply because a bottle of the same had been in the Christmas hamper from 2018 (the saga of that hamper is a whole other miracle story in its own right!), and my mom was quite taken with it.
- Fattoria Poggitazzi Barberino – We’d gotten some Highgrove Royal Gardens white wine, but at the last minute, we switched to a bottle of white we had personally bought from the Antico Borgo Poggitazzi vineyard in Italy, while staying there one summer night after attending a wedding that year.
- Harrogate water, still and sparkling
- Homemade lactose-free raspberry panna cotta – The panna cotta came entirely from the designer in me enjoying the look of the angled layering, and the man in me relishing the engineering challenge to make it happen. [see photo below for inventive engineering, and the trifle bowls purchased specifically for perfect propping and display].
- Robusta coffee personally imported from Ivory Coast
- Fortnum & Mason biscuit selection
- Miniature desserts: pecan tarts, millionaire’s tarts, ganache bites & mini cheesecakes
- Jaffa Cake cocktail digestif
Pirjo’s Swede Casserole
Pirjo’s Carrot Casserole
Pirjo’s Potato Casserole
The panna cotta was subject to a lot of experimentation, as we needed to adapt a full-lactose recipe to no-lactose cream, which is a lot thinner than the regular stuff… and the diagonal effect was an engineering task all of its own: