A few years ago, our family traveled to Finland to meet relatives and to walk the land where my husband Bill’s grandmother Vanni was born. Grandma Vanni’s homefarm, as it is called, was founded in 1834 and still thrives today as an organic dairy farm run by her descendents, Bill’s cousins.
Grandma Josefiina Vanni is on the left, standing next to her older sister Gustava, who was the first to come to America and eventually settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Josefiina followed later, landing at Ellis Island and then to Upper Michigan where she would live for the rest of her life, never returning to Finland.
Josefiina’s life came alive as we walked the farm and heard about her fascinating life from cousin Jouni. We could hardly believe we were there, and then to think a few years later, they would be coming to visit us, some making their first trip to America just as Grandma Vanni had done over 100 years ago.
Coming up the road to Grandma Vanni’s farm.
Entering the farmhouse.
Words can’t describe how much we fell in love with our Finnish family. How did we ever live without them? We can’t imagine not having them in our lives. We were thrilled when eight of the cousins from the farm decided to come and visit us last month.
Finns are very giving people and love to shower family with handmade gifts and other items from their native land. Cousin Leena is an extraordinary cook and knitter. Look at these incredible socks she knit for me! Perfection.
And look at these gloves! I can’t wait for winter so I can wear them.
My hands giving Leena a thank you touch for the gloves. To make it even more fun, Jouni took a photo of the little white alpaca who gave her the wool!
Next I was thrilled to receive this cake mold shaped like Finland, which looks somewhat like a kitty.
The beautiful Marimekko mug has a design of hydrangea, and it’s filled with Karl Fazur Finnish chocolates! The delightful potholders were made by cousin Marja-Liisa, Leena’s daughter. Marja-Liisa can sew anything, and is also an extraordinary knitter.
More Marimekko, a tin and cocktail napkins.
More Karl Fazur chocolates, these being chocolate-covered cranberries. Finns also love their mustards and of course, Kardemumma (Cardamom) for baking.
During their stay here, there was a side trip made to Upper Michigan so the cousins could visit the home where Grandma Vanni lived in the town of Negaunee, and to meet more American cousins. They made a trip to Grandma and Grandpa Vanni’s graves, along with other Vanni’s.
All the Finnish cousins honoring their relatives.
Bill and I own property on Lake Superior in a little town named Big Bay. Everyone had fun eating pasties while enjoying the forest scenery and gazing at the majestic Lake Superior.
Here is our daughter Kara, maybe wondering if she is carrying a boy or a girl!
Our girls Kara and Kristina in front of the sign that begins our road to the lake. It shows where in Finland the relatives are from. “Vannintie” means “Vanni Road” which is also an actual road in Finland.
While in Michigan, Jouni gave an amazing presentation on family history to the other cousins, including how the family farm has grown since Josefiina’s day. I think she would be more than pleased.
Upon returning home, there was a trip to Chicago, Six Flags Great America for the kids, and lots of chatting and just enjoying being together. One item Finns love for breakfast is porridge, sort of like our oatmeal but a million times better! Nothing like it is available in the USA, but we can make it look like how Finns love to serve it which is with fresh red currants. Kristina happened to find some at our local Farmer’s Market.
How beautiful is that? Just drizzle it with a little cream. The fabric underneath was woven by another cousin, Salme, who was not here this time but has visited before. Salme grew up on Grandma Vanni’s farm.
I only touched the surface on this memorable visit, and I will have future blogs with some of Leena’s recipes, and other Finnish treasures!
We miss our cousins more than I can say. Right now as I am writing, Kristina is in the air flying to Finland to work on her Finnish cookbook (more on that later!) and see all the cousins again. Sigh. Lucky girl.
Thank You Debbie, again so nice words 🙂
You’re welcome, Jouni. There aren’t enough pages to cover all the things I want to say! Your American family loves you all so much.
I enjoyed reading about your family so much! Looking forward to seeing Leena’s recipes!
Lisa from Conroe
Thank you, Lisa! There are so many recipes to share, which is why Kristina is writing the Finnish cookbook! Can’t wait for you to see those!
Thank you for your beautiful words, Debbie!
You’re welcome, Marja-Liisa. There will be more to come. I can never say enough to express how we feel about you!
All of your family is blessed and a true blessing. It is lovely of you to share your family story and I absolutely love the photos. The farm!!! The land!! Finland and USA!
Thanks and of course Hugs
You are such a joy, Elaine! Thank you for your big heart. Hugs to you, too.
So interesting, and love all the beautiful gifts you received.. Always enjoy your thoughts…
Hi Chris! I’m so happy to hear from you! Thank you for the kind words.
Thank you for sharing these experiences on your blog!
Loved it, Debbie! Sounds like everyone had a great time … and , hopefully, more (both places!) in the future. My pattern was a bit different, but I knitted the ‘fingerless’ mittens for both Miranda and Alyassa a couple of years ago – I think they enjoyed them!
Thanks, Shirley! I was hoping I would hear from some knitters. You and the Finns have that talent. I’ve tried several times to learn it, but all I end up with is tangled fingers!
I just loved reading this! How wonderful that you can have such a strong connection with your Finnish relatives. I haven’t been to visit Finland for years and years, but have very fond memories of that precious place from years ago. Nowadays I have to live through others’ pictures and words to “visit” from afar. My sister married a Finnish man many years ago, and I have been to Finland only twice, but it’s always been near and dear to my heart. What a CUTE little cake pan! I’ve never seen one like that before. I would love to read all about what’s happening with the farm, the cookbook, and anything to do with Finnish people and Finland.
I’m thrilled that you wrote, Susan! I would love to hear where you visited in Finland. Do you have any Finnish recipes to share? What foods do you remember eating there? Yes, that baking pan is adorable, and I had never seen one when I was there either. I also have two serving dishes in the shape of Finland, one small for candy, and a very large one for whatever! I bought both at the Karl Fazur cafe in Helsinki, where they sell them filled with chocolates. Please keep in touch, and I would love to hear more about your adventures in Finland!
I visited Finland in 1970 and was mostly in Tikkurila which is a suburb of Helsinki. My traveling companion was a Finnish-American woman older than me and she spoke only what she referred to as Finnglish…. but that worked! We also visited Porvoo, Tampere, Turku and Vaasa. In addition we crossed the border into Russia for a few days with a tour group. We saw some of Sweden when we took a ferry to Stockholm and finally spent a little time in Norway as well. I kept a travel diary which I recently rediscovered and see that some of my fondest entries referred to foods we enjoyed. Probably my favorite Finnish bread is Pulla. My husband is an accomplished baker and produces loaves of Pulla when I crave that warm cardamom taste. I have pinned some recipes I have found in various places onto my Pinterest board in my Finnish recipes section.
Susan, I love your travel story! I haven’t been to all the cities you mentioned but know of them. We have relatives in Turku, which is the oldest city in Finland. I agree with you on the Pulla! It’s the best, and Finnish cardamom is the best too. I’m so impressed that your husband has mastered Pulla!
Such iloa ja siunauksia (joy & blessings) from Finland. Wonderful to have that special family time with your dear relatives from Finland and your lovely daughters. I always enjoy seeing their beautiful smiles. (smiling for photos is not always the Finnish way! At least with my Finnish relatives.) Such exquisite handwork and delightful gifts from Finland. Love the Marimekko designs and prints and those delicious Karl Fazer chocolates. Can’t wait to get more of Leena’s recipes. Her slice cookies are a family favorite. I will be watching for them on your blog. Kiitos paljon (thank you very much) for sharing your family with all your friends and readers.
Kim, you know how much I love sharing our Finnish family with you, since you are very Finnish yourself! I think someday we should go to Finland together!
Wonderful article and photos! Thank you, Debbie!
Glad you enjoyed it, Joellyn.
We loved getting to meet everyone and spend time with them. Loved reading your blog and seeing the pics. Put a smile on my face.
Thanks, Lolly. Every time I think of them it puts a smile on my face too. Wonderful people.
I just found your story in Taste of Home and I was drawn by my love of cookbooks and my mom’s collection of them which means the world to me. Also drawn to your Finnish connection as all of my grandparents came from there and landed in the Copper Country. Most of my mom’s first cousins are gone now, but we still stay connected with a few relatives. I’ve been to Finland twice, but it was many years. I really want to go back! I’m looking forward to your daughter’s cookbook and reading more stories about your family!
Thank you, Susan! Do you make any special Finnish recipes from your grandparents? I will let everyone know when my daughter’s cookbook is released. I hope you will like it and maybe recognize some of the classic Finnish recipes.