Sunday, January 17, 2010



One of the joys of my childhood was spending a good portion of every summer 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 or 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.

Alexander’s Lake (the “Lake”) was in the small town of Dayville, not far from Thompson, known for its speedway, and my aunt and uncle’s ‘winter’ residence in the larger town of Danielson. Straight up the I-95, 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/Long Island/Queens 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 ‘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

(L to R - me & my BFF from Bayside)

 and row boated and sailed in sunfish – sunned

 and swam and piled into a neighbor's pick-up truck with my cousins, neighbor kids, ‘townies,’ and New York friends to go to the Pavillion and roller skate every Saturday night under the glittering balls hanging from the ceiling. We hiked the woods

(well, I'm obviously not hiking - but 'reminiscing' my brief modeling days one Christmas in Connecticut )

 read love comics and 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.

(the two of us over the years - the latter pic taken at her son's wedding)

She was a straight shooter, a good meat and potatoes cook and didn’t suffer fools. My mother was six when their 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.

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 that I thought were Finnish, turned out to be really Swedish. But there is one Finnish ‘dish’ that I love. Pulla (pronounced Bull-a …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 themselves. 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 where she would teach him how to make pulla.

(Bob resting before he had to put in the dock for the summer)

Bob has carried on the family pulla tradition and every Christmas sends Richard 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 niece Nha has learned to bake these delicious breads from Bob, and that my god daughter, Monique, Fritz’s granddaughter

(from L to R - Monique, her sister Jen & me before we all grew up)

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.


"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
When milk cools add beaten eggs
Soften yeast in 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 at 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

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..."

Glaze Ingredients:
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...."

A special 'note':  Yesterday Aunt Fritzie's granddaughter gave birth to a new great grandson.  Welcome to the world Cash.

Kippis! (Translation: Cheers!)


Richard said...

Lovely piece... very evocative. Pully for you!

ilona saari said...

LOL - Love having you as my cheerleader, Sweetheart! Thank you.

bobsaari said...

Love the memories of the lake and my hanging out with Aunt Fritzie and Uncle Martin. Loved sleeping on the porch and even spent a couple of weeks painting the outside of the cottage one summer (1972????), Fritzie made it a point that I would have plenty of beer, which I drank with gusto in the afternoon before the days end--then of course a swim. I got the pulla recipe that you posted in your blog probably the same year (maybe it was later)---in the Danielson house, however. I first made it on my own at Omochumnes, the alternative high school I worked at. For a about ten years (1998-2008), I added Cardamon liquor from Guatemala in the glaze... Our memories are wonderful and let's hope Nha will make it a part of her baking repertoire. Would love to have a taste of Monique's. And, I do remember grandma Lempi's Pullah muffins as one of the great breakfast treats of all time.....

ilona saari said...

I'm so glad you liked this piece, Bob -- and I wished I remembered Mumu's pulla muffins, but I don't. ;o( And I hope Monique does share a loaf w/ you one day -- maybe we can have a bake off w/ the girls and you!

Richard said...

Bake off? I'll be the judge!

ilona saari said...

I don't know what's happening w/ the comments - but I hit 'publish' for two comments, yet they haven't appeared and didn't get one I was told was sent. So for you who sent comments and they're not here, please forgive me - the blog seems to have eaten them. ;o(

jan said...

Is pulla the same as nisu?

ilona saari said...

I don't know, Jan. I don't know what nisu is.

ilona saari said...

Just went checked the web and it says that nisu another name for pulla. I learned something new today - Thanx.

ilona saari said...

Ha - should have typed...

Just went and checked the web and it says that nisu's another name for pulla. I learned something new today - Thanx.

Proofreading isn't a strong suit

Nha Kim said...

I Love this blog Ilona!! You're starting to reminice like Vi :))

ilona saari said...

Does that mean I'm getting old!?!?!?! ;o)

If you scan down thru the blog, you'll see I've always been a sucker for the past re: writing about it.

Anonymous said...

I WOULD have to read this on the first day of South Beach.
I could smell the bread baking. Hell, I probably gained five pounds just from reading the piece.
By the way, this is a lovely and lyrical piece.
Was that you in the bikini?

WOW! Sports Illustrated here you come.

ilona saari said...

I'm on So. Beach myself -- so I write about this stuff to keep me from eating it And, yes, anonymous, that's me - many moons ago.

ilona saari said...

PS - Thanx for the lovely compliment, tho.

Monique Marshall said...

Did somebody say bakeoff?

The first time i "tried" to make Pulla bread was when my oldest son, Christopher (now almost 23) was a newborn. Mom and Te were coming for lunch to see us and I thought I'd impress them with my baking skills.
What did I know at age 21....I really didn't think it was all that necessary to wait those long hours for it to rise.....well you get the picture.

The bread was flat...inedible although it smelled so good we had to have a taste)

Fast forward 14 years later....3 more kids.

I tried it again. This time I had all day and the house to distractions.

Shawn and the kids came home and made a few comments on how good it smelled. But Christopher came into the kitchen in amazement .... telling me he has smelled this before. The ONLY time he had is when he was a newborn!!! That was crazy to me how his brain remembered that smell....

Anyway. We all love it and I am honored to make it in Nana's memory...

ilona saari said...

And I couldn't be more thrilled that you're carrying out the family tradition. Was tempted to post pix of you at the lake diving, etc. taken by my photographer/reporter friend Tom (remember him? remember the pix?) - but thought better of it... Do you have those pix? If not, I can scan what I haven't given to your mom and send them to you...

Monique Marshall said...

As long as the pictures were taken when I was a teen...that should be okay lol. I would love to have copies...I have never seen them !! Thanks~momo

ilona saari said...

I'm sure Tom gave copies to your mom - but I'll try to find them all and scan and send them to you.

Lana said...

This was a wonderful piece, Lonie. I enjoyed reading it and seeing the pictures!

Sandra in Michigan said...

What memories the nisu-pully evoked!! I remember Aunt Fritzie would bring the bread when she visited us for Uncle Aarne, my Dad.I had not had any for years until sister Jay's daughter Christina sent me some at Christmas a few years ago. What a wonderful treat. Perhaps all these memories will inspire me to get baking!!

ilona saari said...

Sandra - if you do make it, let me know how it comes out.

TravelsWithDan said...

Something for everyone here--I don't cook (yes, I DO eat) so the recipes you post always go right over my head, while the shots of the food itself always tantalize. My summers in Michigan were also spent on a Lake, though, and so the shots of yesteryear on docks or screened porches or northern woods brought back tons of memories... Thanks for sharing yours.

ilona saari said...

I'm so happy it spur memories for you, Dan.

Susan H. said...

Lovely piece. It reminds me of the time I spent with both my grandmothers on Martha's Vineyard. My great aunt owned a restaurant there. I remember picking berries with my grandmother Ida and making a pie in an old fashioned kitchen. It's a memory I will cherish forever. I really miss her.