Easter hasn’t always been about marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, and, in Finland, delicious nougat-filled eggs.
Already in ancient times Christians in Finland fasted before Easter and they couldn’t eat anything sweet. There were also few raw ingredients and nature was at its stingiest at that time. However there was grain and someone came up with the idea of malting it.
Thus they malted huge trays of the grain during Lent, which led to the modern Easter treat called mämmi.
At its most basic, mämmi is a cooked pudding made from water and rye that’s sweetened naturally through malting. Traditionally it was baked in boxes made of birch bark, but today you can buy it in cardboard boxes in ever grocery store.
Finns are also sharply divided on whether the dark brown gloop is manna from heaven or engine sludge, but all agree that it improves when eaten with cream and sugar, as is the tradition.
During Lent, Christians prepared large portions of the dish to share with friends and neighbors, then served the near-black substance in cold scoops. Though the substance lacked sensory appeal on most levels, the hearty dish easily fed a group.
Today, bakers often enhance the minimalist treat with sweet aromatics, such as molasses, raisins, and orange rind, and complete the finished product in cream and powdered sugar. In recent years, the dessert has appeared in increasingly tasty formats: mämmi sandwiched in custard parfaits, paired with vanilla mousse, and topped with ice cream, with chocolate and blueberries.
Finns are divided on the appeal of traditional mämmi, but all parties agree that the dish improves drastically when its baker defies the will of Lenten asceticism.
And, in any case, throughout the country mämmi is synonymous with Easter. Newcomers to the country are invariably put off by the unappealing brown hue and odd texture of this seasonal speciality, but some eventually found tasty the Finnish oddity.
A mämmi-related fun fact? Finnish cross-country skier, Juha Mieto, eats nearly 30 kilograms of mämmi every year during Easter. And this is a respectable amount!
Images from web – Google Research