28 February 2011

28 February - St. Romanus; Kalevala Day in Finland; Karjalanpaisti

Weather:  Saint Romanus bright and clear, indicates a goodly year.

Today is the feast of Saint Romanus, Abbot, a 5th-century Gallo-Roman who lived as a hermit with his brother in the region of Condat (modern St. Claude) in eastern France.  A number of scholars placed themselves under the direction of the two brothers, who founded and directed several monasteries.

He is invoked against insanity and mental illness, and about now, when we are very tired of endless cold, and spring seems long a-coming, and some of us are succumbing to Seasonal Affective Disorder, while others are merely coming down with Cabin Fever and thinking homicidal thoughts about their housemates... it seems a good time to ask for his help in staying strong and overcoming the Winter Blues.
This is also the Eve of Saint David's Day.  If you wish to see a vision of your future spouse, walk silently around the leek bed three times at midnight.  No bed of leeks?  Now you know what to add to your garden.

If you walk in the churchyard at midnight, you will see the corpse-candles floating above the graves of those families who will suffer a death in the coming year.
Flag of the Republic of Finland

In Finland, today is known as Kalevala Day, a day in which to celebrate Finnish culture.

As related in Helsingen Sanomat (International Editon) 28.2.2002:
"... today is Kalevala Day, marking the anniversary of the publication of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, compiled by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1994) from poetry in the ancient oral tradition.  The material, comprising old Finnish ballads and lyrical songs depicting "the sons of Kalevala", was first published in two editions in 1835 and 1849."

"Kalevala was a significant factor in the National Awakening (as part of the patriotic nationalist revival taking place throughout Europe during the mid-19th century) that led ultimately to Finnish independence and to a greater role for literature in Finnish, rather than in Swedish as had been the rule prior to this."

You can read the Kalevala in Finnish here and translated into English here.  Wikipedia gives synopses of the several cycles which make up the epic.  As both Longfellow and J. R. R. Tolkien were influenced by it, you may recognize several character types.
The national dish of Finland is KARJALANPAISTI (Karelian Hot Pot or Finnish Three-Meat Ragout), and suitable for a celebratory feast as it was in East Karelia (northeastern Finland where it joins Russia) that Herra Lönnrot found many of the stories which make up the epic.

The basic recipe was cubed pieces of beef and pork (and sometimes mutton) with a little salt, covered with water and cooked in a slow oven for hours until tender.  Added to this basic recipe were various seasonings, the amount and the kind being left to the ingenuity of the cook. Thus you will find variations such as in the amount of onions used - anywhere from two to six onions, and the onions either thinly sliced or coarsely chopped - the use of peppercorns (white or black) or not, bay leaves or not, whole allspice or not.  Below is the Hot Pot as I made it:


Into 1-inch pieces cut:
  • 1 pound of beef [I used already packaged stew meat.  Beef round or chuck can be used instead]
  • 1 pound of pork [the commissary had pork stew meat as well, but you could use a pork shoulder or leg]
  • 1 pound of lamb [no lamb stew meat.  I used a lamb shoulder.  Breast or leg is also good]
Slice 5 onions [I used large white onions.  Onions can be chopped instead, if preferred]

You can brown the meat in a little oil or not.  I didn't.

In the bottom of a heavy, oven-proof casserole (with a lid) or Dutch oven, place 1/2 of the meat and onions.  Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns, and 4 whole allspice [I didn't have any bay leaves, but you can add a leaf to each layer].  Repeat the layer, including the salt and spices.  Add enough water or beef broth to almost cover the meat.

Cover and cook in a slow oven (275° - 300° F) for about 5 hours or until the meat is tender.

(If you would like to use your crockpot for this, and let the meat cook while you are away, try this recipe.)

Serve with mashed potatoes, like the oven-baked Perunasoselaatikko, or boiled potatoes, and with lingonberry sauce (cranberry sauce works, if you can't find lingonberry).

[One final thing: if you transfer the cooked meat and onions to a warm platter before serving, isolate and remove the peppercorns and whole allspice (bay leaves as well).  If you serve from the pot, try to get the peppercorns and allspice out first (they tend to float).  The look of pained reproach that a diner will give you when they bite into a peppercorn will stay with you a long time, believe me]

Hyvää Ruokahalua!