Juha Vidgrén is a self-proclaimed history buff. He can spend hours, he said, looking at a historic photo, taking in all the details of a time and place decades ago. That’s why he’s infatuated by the Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC) at Finlandia University, and everything it does to fulfill its mission of preserving and promoting Finnish history and culture in North America. And, since he felt he was in a position to help further that mission, that’s exactly what he did — inspired by a Finnish cookbook.
Vidgrén, the CEO of the Finnish logging equipment company Ponsse, had funded and produced a cookbook that was created as a tribute to the foodways of his home village. That endeavor was a rousing success, so he suggested the concept to the staff of the FAHC. He even offered to support the project of producing a similar cookbook based upon Copper Country foodways. And by support, he meant full support. Vidgrén funded the entire project personally, including arranging for a professional photographer and book designer from Finland to travel to Hancock and capture the images necessary for the book.
This winter, Vidgrén came to Hancock for a variety of reasons, including his first opportunity to see the completed product he made possible – and he was thrilled.
“This is a book celebrating what we have,” he explained to a group assembled to welcome him to the Heritage Center. “All too often, in small towns, people are talking about what they don’t have or what they’ve lost. This is a way to show that we still have a lot to be proud of.”
The book, titled “Tastes of Finnish America: Foods That Make Us Smile” has been selling like the proverbial hotcakes, or pannukakku, to be more culturally accurate.
But it’s more than a collection of recipes. Far more, actually.
“When Juha suggested this project, he said ‘cookbook,’ and I thought, that’s not my strong suit, but I know some things about food traditions,” said Jim Kurtti, the director of the Finnish American Heritage Center and author of the book. “As it developed, it was much more than a cookbook – really not a cookbook at all. It’s a homage to Finnish-American food traditions in the Copper Country through photos and text, centered around 11 key recipes.”
Kurtti explained that as he delved into writing the stories for the book, he realized that it was a false assumption to believe that all readers would have the necessary background to fully understand the traditions, or even the skill set to properly talk about them.
“I became more appreciative of the project, because we were making a record (of these traditions) before it’s too late,” he said. “We had to help people understand the meanings of the words and how to pronounce them; for example, we needed to explain the difference between nisu and nisua, and the difference between nisu and pulla.
“I didn’t realize when I started that I’d be writing pronunciation and grammar guides to go along with a cookbook.”
During Vidgrén visit to campus, he was presented with the new Amerikan Suometar award – a Finland-produced viiri (pendant) that recognizes exceptional contributions to the preservation of Finnish-American cultural life.
“Tastes of Finnish America” is available for sale through North Wind Books at Finlandia University; all proceeds from each sale support the Finnish American Heritage Center and its mission.Tags: Juha Vidgrén, Ponsse