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Love it or hate it: Finland’s Easter mämmi

Throughout Finland mämmi is synonymous with Easter. Newcomers to the country are invariably put off by the unappealing brown hue and odd texture of this seasonal treat, but some eventually develop a taste for the Finnish oddity.

Mämmiä ja kermaa kulhossa.
Mämmi is traditionally served with cream and sugar. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

One of Finland’s enduring traditions is the preparation and consumption of mämmi, a traditional Easter treat of the slow food variety, made primarily from flour and rye malt. Finns are also sharply divided on whether the dark brown gloop is manna from heaven or engine sludge, but all agree that it improves when eaten with cream and sugar, as is the tradition.

“In ancient times we fasted before Easter and couldn’t eat anything sweet. There were also few raw ingredients and nature was at its stingiest at that time. However there was grain and someone came up with the idea of malting grain. That was the beginning of our modern Easter treat Mämmi,” said home economics expert Asta Asunmaa.

Mämmi is generally made in a small cardboard box also known as a punnet or birchwood basket. The box used for the home made variety is usually called a punnet.

“It’s made in rather large batches and you either have to eat it all or share it with friends and neighbours. But if you want to eat mämmi only once, then it might be better to just buy it from the store,” Asunmaa advised.

Making mämmi isn’t rocket science

According to cookery expert Asunmaa making mämmi isn’t rocket science, and you only need a pot, water, rye flour and malt – as well as a lot of time. You cook the flour and malt and leave it to simmer.

“It’s quite interesting. I recommend that if you don’t want to try this alone, then you might want to get someone who has actually made mämmi to help you. That person can then check from time to time to what it looks like while it cooks and what it tastes like at the end,” she suggested.

But Asunmaa warned that mämmi making is not for the faint of heart, as it doesn’t always succeed.

“Sometimes it's really good and at other times you feel like you’d have been better off with the store-bought version. In general you succeed at making traditional foods only by learning and experimenting, and that’s usually the case with home cooking. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” she added.

Pimp your mämmi

Nowadays supermarkets offer mämmi lovers many varieties of the delicacy. Shoppers can choose from cocoa-flavoured or vanilla mämmi but if these don’t strike your fancy you can always pimp your own mämmi.

It’s possible to add a twist to a regular coffee cake by adding mämmi and the more adventurous can mix mämmi in with chocolate and blueberries for a memorable culinary experience.

“I would probably make a dessert in a glass. I’d add crumbled cookies and drops of mämmi. Then I’d add cream or vanilla mousse, layer some more cookies and mämmi, and then maybe top it with ice cream,” Asunmaa suggested.

You are encouraged to try this at home.

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