Search This Blog

Monday, March 18, 2013

Stories of Dark Matter: Recipe for losing and against

It is hard to define the precise moment when things turned sour. The dramatic moment must have been somewhere among the events that drew a perfect arch from the courageous decision after excited discussions, then the experiments all the way down to bitter failures, desperate trials with a not-so-happy ending with the final product.

Courageous in the sense, that practically no-one in Finland makes mämmi at home. And as all wannabe-conquerors in history, we marched ahead to the uncharted territory and gathered as much information as possible. We watched online videos, borrowed the only available Mämmi cookbook, searched for the best ingredients, and devoted all the time we deemed necessary. And it wasn't always enough.

It all started with the rye. Rye malt is a main ingredient to mämmi, and for a proper, oldschool mämmi you make malt at home. Rye malt is made of rye, soaked and germinated and baked/dried and sieved. Two experiments went parallel in two homes, but none of us was able to make malt at home.

Quality and quantity
Finding the proper, untreated rye was tricky, as in most agriculture or garden centers seeds are treated pre-sowing with chemicals. Finding just a small quantity of rye was hard, too. We ended up in funny situations explaining several times that we are not farmers, nor involved in rye production, and we have nothing to do with a John Deer tractor. 

Organic rye (Photo: I. Varga, PaP Team)

We found it interesting to note some emotions on the faces that seldom betray Finns with expressions. After mentioning the propose of this hustle (namely: mämmi making), people dropped their jaw. What a surprise! Mämmi at home, and not from the shop? Wise Finns forgot about the practice of a great tradition, or this is the prelude to some horribly complicated recipe?

Germinating rye (Ildikó Varga, PaP Team)
Round 1: After days of search, we found a store that sells organic food (Ruohonjuuri), including rye. Some members of the PaP (Porridge and Potatoes) Team have experience in agriculture, so it was easy for us to point out the low quality of rye we bought.

A large fraction of seeds was broken or damaged. When the tips are missing there is no chance for germination! So, to get rid of the broken ones we sorted them out manually. (Just imagine someone picking grains of rye!) After two days the room was filled with "stench of mice poo" and some dark fungal disease was apparent, too.

Round 2: After the failure of the organic rye, we took hold of some rare items: rye from the university's agriculture faculty. The grains look healthy and smelled fine. We are not splitting hairs if we note some flaws here. cc. 10% of total grain was either damaged or belonged to other plants (Jeez, great there was no Coco de Mer, with seeds heavier than 15kg...). Chaff and untreshed seeds were frequent, too. It took 3 hours to clean all these away and get 500g of clean rye.

This is the path to win, so we thought. The key event is germination which occurs at constant 17.5 Celsius. This is colder than an average room temp, and much warmer than the outside temp. All in all, we failed again. Given the lack of air conditioning devices, we opened the windows and adjusted the heating, all for vain. Despite all efforts, the seeds were kept in a wet and relatively warm environment. The same conditions are perfect for fungi that arose almost immediately on the seeds, making them inedible. We repeated this germinating process - and failed miserably - five times.

Luckily, rye malt is available in shops of Finland. For good reason, as it seems. The long process of cooking and baking mämmi has been described by many media, and we were able to produce nice results, too.

Final notes of Ildikó:

Finally, we did it, but the cooking process contained many critical steps. One would think the messy kitchen caused the biggest problem. Negative. The whole process takes 10-12 hours, during which you keep on repeating the same step 5-6 times. At the end comes the nightmare: boiling the porridge. You must be careful, as it burns down easily... VERY easily!

My best advise: If you start to boil the porridge, boil it over hot water! You can probably avoid burning it down if you keep the pot with the porridge away from direct contact with the heating surface. 

So, spare the biggest pot for the water, not for the porridge. Otherwise you'd be in trouble! :)

Earlier posts on mämmi

An optimistic post with the complete recipe:

A personal story:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stories of Dark Matter: Mämmi and I

Mämmi is a Finnish Easter porridge made of rye flour and – malt. We Finns eat mämmi during a short period of each year: around Easter time. At old times eating mämmi was a habit because of Lent. Nowadays hardly anyone in Finland fasts before the Easter feasts.
When I was little (in the eighties) my mum would always buy mämmi from a shop. She never prepared it at home, ever. I knew mämmi had something to do with malt and grains, but until the recent times I had no idea what those malts actually are and how they are made? 

Also, as many other people, I didn`t like mämmi: It looks unpleasant, it has a strong taste and it was usually offered with milk, which I`m not fond of either. The sugar added on top did not help in coping with the mämmi eating situations.

Meeting with the dark matter (Photo: N. Ala-Fossi)

Anyway, so I grew up, flew from the nest and spent many years without mämmi. If I was at my parents in Easter I could easily refuse any mämmi offers. Once when I was living abroad in Budapest my mother was visiting us during the mämmi season. The guests brought us small cups of mämmi from Finland. We tasted it a bit with my Hungarian boyfriend and put it into the fridge where it stayed for the next months untouched and was finally thrown away to trash. I was still not able to appreciate that stuff and neither was he pleased to meet with the Finnish culinary specialty.

But what happened then? Last year I experienced the first time in my life when I was able to enjoy eating mämmi. Did I get old? Is enjoying mämmi something like starting to love tango music when you turn middle aged? (Middle aged Finns love tango.) Well, I don`t know. I guess I had to grow up mentally to get rid of my old preconceptions to really try what mämmi tastes like. And now I like it!

(Or wait… maybe it has something to do with the vanilla sauce I ate mämmi with..?)

 P.s. Do you have a story with Mämmi? Send us a short, max. 1 page text and we´ll publish it! (anonymity granted)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mämmi recipe

How can you make mämmi at home?

The big question is: buying or preparing? Of course, preparing! Let’s cook mämmi at home!

Mmmmm….. mmmmmm…. mämmi!

Mämmi, the traditional Easter Porridge is a quite common dessert that is eaten during Lent (6 weeks before Easter). Traditionally it was baked and kept in boxes made of birch bark, but nowadays everybody buy it in aluminum or paper boxes in the stores.

This porridge contains only a few ingredients, however, it’s quite difficult to make mämmi. After all you would like to make this special porridge, it’s better to know, that the whole preparation time is 8-12 hours! There is otherwise one good news, too: the minimum volume that you can make is 4 L, which will be enough for all your relatives, friends and neighbors! Probably it’s better to choose a weekend day, when you can be home at the whole day. Now, you have to buy only the ingredients and the great mämmi cooking can be started!

PS: Don’t worry, I will make this recipe on this Saturday, so if you make it with me, please send me a picture of your beautiful porridge!

ildiko from Porridge and Potatoes

The recipe.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to tame your mämmi?

"The dark matter is hypothesized to account for a large part of the total mass in the universe.
Dark matter cannot be seen directly by telescopes…“ (Wikipedia -“Dark matter”)

100 g of mämmi (photo: F. Vilisics)
As we left Laskiainen (Shrove Tuesday) with its traditional sledding, mushy peasoups and the season’s cake laskiaispulla behind, the season of Lent brought mämmi to our sight.  

For people unfamiliar, this dark matter is an old tradition in Finland. Based on rye malt and flour, it is exclusively consumed in late Feburary and March. Hardly a culinary wonder, but Finns could not care less! Finnish food industry produces over 3 million packages a year!

History, ingredients, production and taste   are not priority here, we only focus on one thing:
How Finnish people like mämmi, and how they eat it?

The survey
A week ago we have circulated a survey on the mämmi consuming habits because we wanted to get an insight into this Finnish peculiarity. The answers shed light to one thing: Finns know what they eat, and develop individual ways of covering the funny taste dressing their mämmis with sweet and even sweeter substances. 

The survey showed a combination of cream, sugar, milk and ice cream to be the most popular way to consume mämmi. The answers indicate, however, that a half of the respondents would not eat it if it wasn't a Finnish tradition!  

Who they are?
From the 105 respondents 73% were women and 82% of the were between the age 18 – 34 (18-24: 28%; 25-34: 54%). 

And now, let the charts tell the rest!

Text and plots: Ferenc Vilisics