MY MUSE BOX - Aunt Fritzie's Pulla & The Lake - a Memoir

A family Christmas tradition


One of the joys of my childhood was spending a good portion of every summer in a cottage owned by my Uncle Martin and Aunt Fritzie on a lake in Connecticut. It wasn’t that big a lake as lakes go… about three-four miles long and a mile wide… but for all the memories it gave me, it might as well have been as big as the At

Alexander’s Lake (the “Lake”) was in the small town of Dayville, not far from Thompson, known for its speedway, and my aunt and uncle’s ‘winter’ residence in the larger town of Danielson.   Straight up the I-95, almost to the Rhode Island, Massachusetts borders, the area is fairly rural even though it isn’t that far from Providence or Boston.  The Lake was my Golden Pond and my aunt and uncle opened their doors and arms to me and my New York/Long Island/Queens friends for as long as I wanted to stay.The cottage was tiny with a living room/kitchen, one bathroom, a bunk room that slept two, a ‘”master” bedroom and a screened in porch overlooking the Lake where most of us kids slept.

The Lake banned motor boats for environmental reasons (even back then), not wanting to have that oil slick so many lakes have developed, so I canoed and row boated and sailed in sunfish – sunned and swam and when we were kids (my cousins, neighbor kids, ‘townies,’ New York friends), we piled into a neighbor’s pick-up truck and went to the Pavillion to roller skate every Saturday night under the glittering balls hanging from the ceiling. We hiked the woods, read love comics and played Canasta on the screened in porch and played hide & seek after supper, often getting thrown into the lake with our clothes on by one of the cove’s fathers (the cottage was in a large cove with many other cottages).

But my fondest memories of those summers are of my Aunt Fritzie. She was a straight shooter, a good meat and potatoes cook and didn’t suffer fools. My mother was six when her mother died and Fritzie helped raise her, making her not only my mom’s sister, but my mom’s surrogate mom.  Aunt Fritzie was also my “summer” mom. A terrific card player, she taught me how to play canasta and bridge and when I was older and dating boys from “town” she’d flick the porch light on and off if I lingered in their cars too long before coming in after a date. I adored her. My mother adored her. My father adored her. And, my brother adored her.

Did I mention that she and my uncle were Finnish? In fact all my aunts and uncles on both sides were Finnish. Well, Finns aren’t noted for their cuisine. They paid their WWII U.S. war debt, they gave the world Sibelius, Marimekko, Saarinen (father and son) and Nokia – but not a helluva lot of Finnish food unless you count Finn Crisp. And, those foods I thought were Finnish, turned out to be really Swedish. But there is one Finnish ‘dish’ that I love. Pulla (pronounced Bull-a …Finnish is a very strange language). 

Pulla is a marvelous bread. No, it’s a coffee cake! No, it’s a bread! No, it’s a coffee cake! I think, like many things in life, every person has to decide for themselves. For me it’s a coffee cake bread that is the most marvelous when toasted and buttered for breakfast  My grandmother on my father’s side made pulla. AND, my Aunt Fritzie made pulla. And when she’d make it at the Lake, the cottage was filled with the fragrant, distinct and exotic aroma of cardamom..

The years passed and I didn’t spend that much time at the lake after college (a weekend or two every summer). But, eight years after my father died, mom remarried a man in Danielson, so my brother Bob got to spend summers there when he was home from prep school or college. He spent a lot of time at the Lake and with Aunt Fritzie. They would talk and Fritz would teach him how to make pulla. 

Bob has carried on the family pulla tradition and every Christmas sends my husband and me at least two loaves.  One for our Christmas Eve party (if I don’t hoard it) and one for us. They’re gone in a Finnish flash. Recently I learned that my nieces have learned to bake these delicious breads from Bob and that my god daughter, Fritz’s granddaughter, is also carrying on this Finnish food family tradition.  Knowing this makes my heart smile.  I miss you Aunt Fritzie.

Start your own Christmas bread tradition… or help yourself to mine.


Here’s the recipe my brother sent me and his comments.


                                AUNT FRITZIE’S PULLA (BULLA)

This recipe is what my aunt gave me about 30 years ago...  It will make about 5 to 6 loaves...

10-12 cups flour (I usually end up using more)

 2 cans evaporated milk –

 1 can luke warm water

 3 eggs room temp
 1 cup sugar
 1 teaspoon salt
 2 packages dry yeast
 1/2 pound butter
 6-10 cardemon pods peeled and crushed (powdered cardamom is OK)



 Put sugar, butter, salt into warm milk(don't forget the 1 can water) and melt butter
When milk cools add beaten eggs>
Soften yeast into 1l2 cup warm water - stir with spoon
Add cardamom and yeast into milk
Add 4 cups of flour- mix with spoon, keep adding flour 1 cup at at time until it has a dough consistency--then knead but not too much --my aunt said ‘mix good’...I knead a little more-who knows?
Cover with a towel and let rise in warm place until double in bulk
Punch down and make braided loaves (you can make muffins, too)
Cover and wait until double in bulk

 Brush loaves with glaze after they have risen

 Bake loaves for 40-45 minutes in a 325-350 oven
 Muffins for 15 minjutes

I have noticed that in my oven with 6 loaves each time is different...I might even change the position of the loaves as my oven heats differently, especially with 6 loaves...

 Glaze Ingredients:
 2+ teaspoons butter

 3-4 teaspoons sugar

about 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee 



Cook in a saucepan until a syrup...I usually use more butter and coffee....last time I added cardamon liqueur.

 You can make braided rings, top with almonds and powdered sugar..
 You can add raisins to the muffins
After a day or two, I love to toast a slice until lightly golden and then cover with butter (sweet butter is great) and have a cup of coffee. hmmmm good stuff....

Kippis!  (Finnish for “cheers!”)

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Gary Young December 14, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Ilona: I can smell the bread, cake, bread cooking. You do have a way of getting the salivary glands going with your great images. I can remember as a young whipper-snapper, growing up in Washington, DC, the smell at the old Griffith Stadium. Yes, the stadium. Well, not the cigars, which were plentiful in those days, but the amazing smell of the Wonder Bread factory, which was literally next door. It didn't take much of a breeze to waft heavenly bread essence into the park. Removed a little of the pain of losing so often. Also, due to the bread smell, the vendors sold record amounts of hot dogs. I hate to think what might have been in those doggies back in those days, but the bread was always soft, fresh, and aromatic, just like the stadium, between the plentiful wafts of cigar smoke. Now I'm going to copy your recipe. Best, Gary Young <http://garyyoungunlimited.com>
Irene DeBlasio December 14, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Ilona, Great piece -- there's nothing like bread! Marie Antoinette should have known better! You left out my most treasured Finnish genius, Esa Pekka Salonen. I was honored to sit in the front row of his Goodbye Los Angeles Philharmonic concert at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with the rest of the weeping audience. Gustavo Dudamel was triumphant in his grand opener at Disney Hall -- we adore him but we miss our Fabulous Finn.
Ilona Saari December 14, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Miss him, too, Irene. I'm actually writing a satirical piece about growing up a Finnish "minority" in America (and the Oscars) that mentions Esa - I hope it'll make you laugh -- well,, smile at least. And, Gary - you must let me know how your pulla turns out.


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