Fire up the grill! Light those sparklers! Summer’s here… the season between 4th of July and Labor Day. I know, I know, not literally, but if you were a kid who grew up going to school from September to June like I was, this was your "Huck Finn" time.
And one of the joys of my childhood was spending a good portion of every summer vacation with my family 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 Atlantic Ocean. Memories seem to flourish in the heat of summer.
Alexander’s Lake (the “Lake”) was in the small town of Dayville, not far from Thompson, known for its speedway. Straight up the I-95 from my home in Bayside, Long Island, 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 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 tiny “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… I 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 Pavilion to roller skate every Saturday night under the glittering balls hanging from the ceiling. We hiked the woods, read love comics, 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. That lady was adored.
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. Go figure… 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 his or her self. 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 with Aunt Fritzie. They would talk and Fritzie 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 Hoang and Nha have learned to bake these delicious breads from Bob and that my goddaughter, Monique, Fritzie’s granddaughter, is also carrying on this Finnish food family tradition. Knowing this makes my heart smile. I miss you Aunt Fritzie.
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 lukewarm water
3 eggs room temp.
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 packages dry yeast
1/2 pound butter
6-10 cardamom 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
Beat the eggs
When milk cools add beaten eggs
Soften yeast into 1/2 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 a 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 (see glaze ingredients below)
Bake loaves for 40-45 minutes in a 325-350 oven
Muffins for 15 minutes
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...
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 cardamom 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! (Translation: Cheers!)