Posts tagged ‘Finland’

October 15, 2012

Helsinki Granny’s Green Tomato Pickles

by Ciaran Burke

Yes, it is the end of the tomatoes, for this year. Cold nights have taken their toll. Limp leaves hang and slowly start to mould, soft under developed fruits drop to the ground and their is an air of melancholic resignation about the plants, their stems twisted around the twines. We plucked the last of the green fruit from the trusses, the last of the harvest, any chance of ripening far beyond hope. Ripening of the tomatoes was sporadic and slow through the summer, not until the shortening of the days were there red fruits visible. Perhaps we should grow tomatoes primarily for green fruits, leave a few red ones as a treat and cook the firm verdant fruit instead.

A couple of weeks ago my mother-in-law was visiting,  like my wife she is from Helsinki, Finland. Her mother was originally from Karelia, an area to the east of Finland which was invaded by Soviet troops during the second world war. The Soviets had many more times soldiers as the Finns, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks.  After the winter war of 1939 – 1940  a truce was signed, the ski travelling army of the Finns had held off the tanks and planes of the neighbour, the troops of Uncle Joe, the wonder of the Winter War. Hostilities resumed in 1941. Unfortunately for the Finns, the Soviet army had become better equipped and the generals war hardened. The Finns were defeated and a new truce signed. The end result was that they had to give up large areas of their country. Although Finland maintained their sovereignty, almost half a million people had to leave their homes in Karelia, it was to be left empty for the Soviets. The mass exodus of the Eastern territories meant great stress not just for the evacuees, but also for all Finns with a spare room who by law has to house a family from Karelia.

Although this has little to do with the forthcoming recipe, historical events mean that I do not call it Karelia Granny’s recipe. Those were hard times, which makes my grumbling about the weather and poor ripening of tomatoes quite trivial. When Hanna’s mum was looking at our plentiful green tomatoes she remembered that she had the recipe from Helsinki granny and promised to e-mail it to us upon her return home, to Helsinki. This she did and it turned out to a wonderful pickle.

Green Tomato Pickle

Helsinki Granny’s Pickled Tomatoes


  • 1 Kg of small green tomatoes
  • 250ml malt vinegar
  • 3-4 dl sugar (300-400ml)
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 tsp mace
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 10 black pepper corns

Green tomatoes soaking in water


  1. Place the green tomatoes in a bowl of water and let stand for 2-3 hours then rinse the fruit in cold water.
  2. Heat up vinegar and spice until boiling and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Strain the vinegar through muslin cloth and return the vinegar to a pan.

    Prick each green plum tomato a couple of times with a fork

  4. Pierce each tomatoes a couple of times with a fork
  5. Put the tomatoes in the vinegar and cook for about 15 minutes until the fruit has softened.
  6. Place the fruit into sterilized jars and cover them with the vinegar.
  7. Seal immediately

The fruit should last all winter according to Hanna’s mum. Remember she speaks of a Finnish winter, that means they will last until at least May. Ours will be lucky to see halloween, they are delicious on toast, in salad or as an accompaniment to just about any savoury meal.

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For information about sterilizing jars see this previous blog post 

June 26, 2012

Honey Berry, Siberian Blue Berry – Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica

by Ciaran Burke

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – berries in a bowl

This morning before I left to supervise the Royal Horticultural Society examinations taking place in our Galway centre today, I enjoyed a bowl of muesli topped with berries of Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica- it is so uncommon in gardens that there has yet to be a common name adopted for it; honey berry, blue honeysuckle and siberian blueberry.

Whatever you wish to call it, this is a berried plant to get excited about. The fruits have a taste similar to blueberries and are packed with Vitamin C, and unlike blue berries it will grow in alkaline soils! ANother great feature of this shrub is that the fruits ripen very early in the year, before such fruit bushes as black currants.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

Home for Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica is Kamtschatka Penninsula in north east Siberia. The plant can survie minus 40 Celcius and the flowers which are borne in Spring will tolerate frosty conditions as cold as minus 8 Celcius.

I first came across the plant in Finland, or rather in a book written by a Finn, Lief Blomqvist. In his book Puutarhan marjat (Garden Berries) he inspires me with his amazing range of edible berries which they grow in Finland. The book is written in Finnish, my wife Hanna translates for me. He also runs a nursery north of Vaasa, which apart from stocking perennials and shrubs, stocks old, rare and winter hardy (in mid-Finland) apple varieties and unusual fruit and berrying plants. We visited his nursery last summer and were amazed by the range of plants on offer, especially the fruits.

Each summer when we return from Finland, we do so with a few plants in our suitcases, we usually have to post home dirty laundry! The first time our luggage contained two sea buckthorns, Hippophae rhamnoides, ‘Rudolf” and ‘Raisa’, male and female. Despite being stripped of their rootball clothing of potting compost they established well and last summer after three years, we enjoyed out first crop of berries.

Varieties of  mock orange Philadelphus ‘Erectus’, sand cherry, Prunus pumila and of course Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica have been among the many to make the southern journey in August every year since. The Lonicera has started to fruit well this year. It produces fruits about 1cm long hidden amongst the foliage. The fruit ripen early, before any of the other bush fruit and the taste similar to blueberries.

The plants grow about the same size as black currants, about 1.5m and live for about 30 years, although it is said that their peak production is on plants that are between 7 and 15 years old. Cross pollination between two cultivars, like blueberries, provides larger crops. Unlike blueberries, this relative of the honeysuckle does not require acid soil conditions. They grow best in a sunny position and any soil that is not very wet.

Apart from their excellent flavour, the fact that they fruit early is a hugely positive characteristic, they fruit at the same time as strawberries, before currants and gooseberries. We have one plant without a cultivar name with hairy foliage, the first that we purchased. The following year we got L. caerulea var. kamtschatica ‘Duet’. L.’ Duet’ has not fruited well as yet, there was an issue about weed competition, but the other unnamed plant has fruited quite well. The latest addition is L.’Gerda’ which is said to have really big fruits, we wait patiently for its large sized bounty next year. About five weeks ago I took some cuttings of a plant from my mothers garden, an un-named cultivar and they have rooted well.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

The flowers are small, borne in pairs in the leaf axils and are in bloom very early in the year. Although cross pollination is said to produce better crops, our plants are flowering at different times, perhaps this is the reason that ‘Duet’ is not producing well. Next year with L. ‘Gerda’ for company and plants raised from cuttings we should have the flowering seasons well covered and we can look forward to bumper crops…maybe enough for jam, honey berry jam, sounds nice!

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – mashed and sugared , a fresh jam on home made bread – delicious!

July 29, 2011


by Ciaran Burke


I have been in Finland for the last couple of weeks with my wife Hanna, a native of this beautiful tree filled land. Finland is the most forested country in the EU. Approximately 74% of the country is covered in forest. One gets the impression that even the biggest towns and cities are living areas carved from the forests, trees are never far away. The green gold of Finland provides an important source of income, but the forests are more than resources to be harvested and sold.

Driving through the country, large pines and birches tower either side of the road. The roads are like veins and arteries carrying civilization, through a forested body; it is in this arboreal body in which the Finnish soul resides.

In European folklores, the woods are scary places; big bad wolves attack innocent girls on their way to visit their grand mothers. In Finland however the forests are considered a place of beauty, where most people spend their summer holidays, surrounded by the beauty. In summer as you drive along one of the arterial routes of civilization, you are sure to see people walking to the forests with empty buckets in search for berries or coming from the woods with baskets of mushrooms. Gathering food from the forest floor is a national pass time, or in some cases an obsession.

The two most numerous berry types are lingon berry and wild blueberry, bilberry, or froachan as we call it in Ireland. Both are species of Vaccinium, the former, V. vitis-idea and the latter V. myrtillus. Finns may love their forests, but they are intensely proud of their berries too. Ask them and most will tell you that the Finnish blueberries are the best. Families often have their own preferred places for picking; this information is not shared with others.

Last week we were in Hanko, the southern most tip of Finland. Here the forest is chiefly composed of tall pines. We got a report that the blue berries were plentiful, we went for a walk to see. As often happens in this wooded land, a short stroll became a berry picking expedition. The hot and high afternoon sun filtered through the open pines to dapple light patterns on the sandy forest floor. Mosses and lichens made a soft bed for heathers and blueberries to grow in the shade. We picked a litre of berries and returned home.


Early the next morning we visited the market in Hanko. Here in a car park in the town, adjacent to a filling station, wild blue berries were piled high on a table. The berry sellers were Asian women, Burmese refugees. They pick them in the woods and sell the in the market, their produce marked clearly that they are Suomi, Finnish. Farmers sold vegetables, there were stalls for locally caught fish too. The vegetables stalls sold potatoes measured in kappa’s. A kappa is a wooden box, a 5 litre box is a full kappa, a 2 litre is half. These are traditional measurements used for selling potatoes, converted to metric measurements, the boxes complete with official stamps. Most fruits and vegetables are sold by volume and not by weight at the Finnish markets. French beans, green and yellow are measured in litre and half litre measuring cups.



We purchased an additional litre of blue berries and potatoes and vegetables for dinner; then we cycled home to make some jam.


In a saucepan I cooked the berries with a small amount of water until the fruit had become soft, a wonderful fruity fragrance filled the kitchen. After about ten minutes of slowly cooking the fruit I gradually added 500g of sugar, made from Finnish grown sugar beet, unlike Ireland they saved their sugar beet industry from EU eradication. When all the sugar was added and dissolved, I turned up the heat and the jam boiled hard. I continued cooking the jam, stirring occasionally until the jam was not running off the wooden spoon.


The messiest part of jam making is always when I fill the jars. The jars were heated in the oven so as to sterilize them; they were first washed, then dried and placed in a cold oven. I heat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius and the jars remain in the oven until I am ready to fill them.


Later when the filled jars had cooled and the jam was set, we ate Finnish oven pancake over which we spooned this delicious wild blue berry jam. We ate it with home made buns, on bread, and spooned straight from the jar. There is nothing quite like home made jam, wild blue berry jam made with berries from the woodland, delicious!

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July 10, 2011

Kanaviilokki – Finnish Chicken Curry With Blackcurrant Jam

by Ciaran Burke


Next week I will be visiting Finland. Each year my wife and I visit her homeland and her family and friends. I like Finland, in the summer the nights are long, the weather better than Ireland and in the winter the deep snow and cold crisp weather is refreshing. The Finns are nice people, polite and pleasant, direct and honest.

When you visit foreign places, you look for similarities, you also notice differences. The people you meet treat you as an exotic, they too look for similarities between our cultures and also observe the differences. Sometimes both can create amusing situations. A simple act on my part, a common place action in my home land can create amusement and people might make remarks. A straight forward act such as putting jam on your bread in the morning, a good example. Finns eat bread for their breakfast, they also eat jam, but the two do not meet. No, black currant jam does not get spread on their leipä, instead they eat their black currant hillo with meat. A popular home made dish is Kanaviilokki, a chicken curry and it is always served with jam, black currant jam. Imagine sitting down at the local Indian curry house, the waiter has served you your tandori chicken and asks you if there is anything else he can get you, to which you reply, “may I have a side order of black currant jam to go with this please?”. I am tempted to try it. Well until I get that opportunity I decided to give it ago at home. Hanna supplied the recipe, just like Finnish mums have been making it for decades, but with a few slight variations.

You can’t get whole chikens in the shop in Finland, you can only get portions or what they call broiler meat. We used a large breast and two thighs which we had cut up into portions when we bought our organic chiken from Irish Organic meats at Boyle farmers market, Hanna ground up the curry spices fresh, and the chicken stock came from our freezer, made from the carcass of an organic chicken after portioning it up. We use brown basmati rice.




  • 500g of chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped coarsely
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 3 teaspoons of curry powder (depending on which mix you use, add less at first and add more as it cooks if you think it needs it)
  • Butter for frying
  • cornflower for thikening
  • Black Currant Jam for serving
  • Brown Basmati Rice


  1. Melt a large knob of butter in a large sauce pan. I add a little rape seed oil to help stop the butter burning. Use a medium to low heat.
  2. Add the onion and saute until it starts to soften.
  3. Add curry powder and continue to cook until the onion softens and turns golden. Be careful not to let the onion burn and don’t let it stick to the pan, keep it moving around.
  4. Chicken can now be added, turn up the heat a little and stir around until the meat is sealed.
  5. Pour in the chicken stock, turn up the heat until the liquid boils and then lower the heat and cover the pot.
  6. Let the mixture simmer for 40 minutes, stirring every now and again to prevent it sticking
  7. Put a couple of tea spoons of corn flower in a cup and add a little water, stir to make a paste.
  8. Add a little of the cornflower at a time and stir until the curry starts to thicken, cook for another few minutes, stirring frequently.
  9. Serve the curry with boiled rice and a side dish of black currant jam.



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