The art of Karelian pie making
‘We believe that a Karelian Pie is as unique as its creator. Each pie is a reflection of your personality’. I take a deep breath. In front of me lie small flabs of rye dough, a wooden dough roll with pointy ends, and a bowl of rice pudding. I’m hoping that these will eventually evolve into something that could somehow be described as wholesome. Minna, our guesthouse hostess and expert Karelian pie maker, adds to the stakes: ‘These Karelian pies are the pride of our grandmothers. It’s a tradition that’s been carried forward through generations’. I’m feeling watched by generations of Karelian women. Clearly, I’m outside my comfort zone.
After a short induction from Minna, we learn about the significance of the Karelian pie. Like other East Finnish customs ranging from clothes to folklore, it blends Finnish and Russian traditions. These are not only related to the recipe behind the pie but also the family gatherings it involves. Our hostess explains that both she and her mum have delighted in making the pies together for decades. A Sunday tradition that needs to be observed at least once a month.
In the meantime, I’m taking the gluing purpose of the pie a little too literally as the dough wraps around my roll entirely. As I’m trying to fumble the dough off my pie making dough roll, it tears. The task at hand is deceptively simple. I’m meant to roll a thin oval. Then, add some rice pudding in the middle and frame my work by flapping the margins into small symmetric jimps around the pudding. I start again. This is some flimsy business.
Luckily, I’m not the only one struggling. There is a collective learning curve amongst my fellow amateur piemakers. After a somewhat hectic day, it feels like we’re learning how to unwind in Karelian style. While there is certainly a challenge in getting the technique right, the actual test seems to be the need to dedicate not only time but full concentration to a simple task. Perhaps this is what our guide meant by the pie being a reflection of our personality, it mirrors our ability to be mindful.
I decide that my second attempt is ready to meet the oven. The middle bit may be a little opulent and the margins not strictly symmetrical but overall I’m happy with my creation. The general sense of relief is shared by the group. The first pie is done.
We continue to learn about the pie as we roll small little ovals during round number two. As you would expect, there are hundreds of variations to the best way of piemaking. Some use exclusively Finnish ingredients such as carrots and potatoes. Others, like our teacher, have decided to experiment beyond the Finnish border, and use rice pudding. She reasons that Karelian women are forward-thinking and entrepreneurial, and putting their own spin on traditions comes naturally to them.
After finalising my third pie I’m bidding my work farewell, it is sent to the oven for eight minutes. As my now crispy pie returns, I’m happy to label my work as ‘not too bad’. The pie passes the taste test, and I receive a Karelian pie making diploma. Does this mean that I now have bragging rights? Karelian grandmas may beg to differ but perhaps secretly appreciate the effort that went into it. I certainly appreciate theirs.
If you, too, like to embrace the art of Finnish cooking and piemaking, I'd highly recommend it even to amateur chefs like me, have a look at our Finnish foodie tour which includes a stopover a Minna's wonderfully welcoming guesthouse.