Secrets of the Old Tin Box

Pin It

Aunt Ann recipe box atop cookbooks

Anna Juljaana Vanni Halonen was my husband Bill’s Finnish aunt, known to the family as Aunt Ann.  When Bill and his cousins recently started cleaning out Aunt Ann’s home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the kitchen revealed some family treasures.  If there is anything that gets my attention more than old cookbooks, it’s old recipe boxes.  When Bill called to tell me Aunt Ann’s recipe box and a few cookbooks were sitting on the kitchen counter, I was on pins and needles until he brought them home.  I knew there were recipes waiting to be prepared and loved, as they had for many decades, some coming from the old country where Aunt Ann’s mother, Josefina Kahma Vanni lived, and where her centuries old family farm still thrives.

Aunt Ann old recipe cards

Old family recipe boxes contain more than just recipes – they are family history, memories, and they almost beg to be remembered and loved.  I could almost hear Aunt Ann saying – try this!  They were Grandma Vanni’s favorite cookies; or explaining the Finnish terms to me.  I’m still not sure what “Joulu Torttus” means, although it sounds like it might be Christmas cookies, as they seem to be pinwheel cookies with a cooked prune filling.  “Uutta Maitoa” is a mystery ingredient.  There are many Finnish recipes in the box, but also some more modern comfort foods like porcupine meatballs, which I made right away for my husband who loves them.  Aunt Ann must have loved beef stroganoff because there were about six different recipes for it.  Finns love baked goods such as pies, bread, berries, cookies, and cakes, along with canning and preserving.  There are many recipes for jams, marmalades, and pickles of all kinds.  I’m going to have a busy summer, making many of Aunt Ann’s recipes and passing them onto my girls and everyone else in the family.  Next on the agenda is a carrot-orange marmalade, a Finnish oven pancake with lingonberries, and an oatmeal cookie that calls for ground raisins and melted lard.

Besides the recipe box, one of the few cookbooks Aunt Ann owned was “Good Meals and How to Prepare Them,” a Good Housekeeping Institute cookbook from 1927.  Inside were dozens of more recipes on paper, most very yellowed and torn, and many written on the backs of old bank deposit slips.  I could easily find her favorites in the book, as there were many turned down corners with a red check next to the selected recipe, along with the telltale splattered pages.  I wondered why Aunt Ann used this book so much when I discovered that many of the recipes were “translated from the Scandinavian languages.”

Another book of interest is the “Recipes from Cherryland,” given to Aunt Ann in 1947.  She used the Finnish rye bread recipe frequently, as it has comments written along the side of the page.  There was a recipe written on paper and tucked into the book that is titled “Cookie,” and then the rest is in Finnish that calls for “kuppia” (cup, I think) of rasvaa, ruunia sokeria, munaa, nutsia (nuts?) sihattua joukoja, then suddenly, “cornflakes!”  I guess there is no translation for cornflakes.

I think my kitchen will be an adventurous place this summer.  When I figure out what all the Finn words mean, I’ll make whatever it is and report back.  And if it’s a Finnish cookie, even with American cornflakes added, I’m sure it will be good.  At least Aunt Ann thought so, and that’s good enough for me.

6 Responses to Secrets of the Old Tin Box

  1. May 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    I can believe what a treasure You have! Funny to see some old finnish words mixed with english words. “uutta maitoa” is colostrum milk, milk after cow has just calved, like 3-5 days.

    • May 15, 2013 at 7:46 am #

      Thank you, Jouni! I knew you would come to the rescue. But since I don’t have access to a cow, I guess the store bought American milk will have to suffice!

  2. December 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Any chance you will publish the recipes on Pinterest or in your blog? I don’t have any of my grandmother’s Finnish recipes and know that many family members would love to have some. Lucky you!

    • December 19, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

      Sharon, tell me what recipes you are interested in and I will see if they are in my family files!

  3. December 8, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    I can’t help but wonder if you’ve actually managed to make these old recipes. I just found your blog, thanks to Pinterest 🙂 Being of Finnish descent (living in Northern MN), the Christmas tart recipe is very familiar. Some of my friends make these every Christmas (even have “tart” cutters) and they are delicious. The “squeaky cheese” or “Juustoa”sp? recipe made from fresh milk tastes something like fresh mozzarella. Very common treat at weddings in our church. I would love a Finnish rye bread recipe if you have one. My mother’s uses something like 16 cups of flour!

    • December 9, 2015 at 12:29 am #

      I love squeaky cheese and enjoyed the homemade version served with cloudberry jam in Finland this past summer. It was heavenly! I have made many of the recipes in the box and others given to me from the relatives in Finland which will be appearing from time to time on the blog. (spoiler alert – one recipe coming up on this Friday’s blog, 12/11!) I have also been experimenting with some rye bread recipes and look for that on the blog too when I find the one I like best. Thanks for writing!

Leave a Reply