Beatrice Ojakangas

Recipes from the Scandinavian Chef

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Location: Duluth, Minnesota, United States


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I was about five years old and I had already discovered that it was far more pleasurable to satisfy the wishes of my parents than to rebel. Maybe it was because my mother lost her mother at the age of five. She must have told me the story, though I don’t remember, but for some reason I carried this vision in my mind. I know she told me more about it later in life.
She always referred to “Stepmother” when she talked about the woman who had replaced her mother after her untimely death. “Stepmother never let us into the kitchen,” she would say, “I want my kids to know how to cook.”
So when she said I needed to learn how to bake a cake, I agreed. She took out the big tan crockery mixing bowl with blue stripes round the outside, the wooden spoon, and the essential ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, salt, baking powder, flour, vanilla and milk.
The wood stove had been fired up so that the gauge on the front of the oven read “350*F.” It was winter and the stove was always hot and ready for baking.
She scooped an egg-sized sphere of butter and slapped it into the bowl. “About a half cup is right”, she said. Then she poked the butter with the tip of the wooden spoon making indentations that looked like so many commas in a row. This was to soften the butter, she said.
Then she added sugar in twice the measure of the butter, about a cup and stirred it until it was all creamy. She added eggs, two of them, stirring really fast so that the liquid of the eggs was whipped into the butter mixture. She went on to mix in the flour and baking powder, and explained that one teaspoon of baking powder to one cup of flour was the best proportion. Vanilla for flavor and enough milk to make a smooth, pour-able batter and the cake was ready for the baking pan.
“Taste it” she said, “If it tastes flat – add a pinch of salt. We did, and we mixed it in. Then we scraped the batter into the buttered pan and stuck it into the oven to bake until a straw plucked from the corn broom and stuck into the center of the cake came out clean and dry.
I tried to memorize all this. I hadn’t yet started first grade and couldn’t read or write so I couldn’t take notes.
It was some time later and my mother was in labor, not an uncommon occurrence – there eventually were ten of us. Dr. Van Valkenberg (Floodwood’s resident physician) and my father were in the bedroom with her. I wasn’t allowed into the room. The kitchen stove was fired up because they needed boiling water to sterilize stuff. My job was to open the side lid of the wood stove and add a piece of firewood every fifteen minutes or so.
I decided then to bake a cake for “Mummy”.
I took out the bowl and spoon and tried to remember all the ingredients. I mixed the batter as I remembered it. Last of all, I tasted it. It was flat. I added a pinch of salt. Still flat. I added another pinch of salt. Still flat. Finally I was tossing handfuls of salt into the batter and it didn’t help at all. The batter looked good. So I poured it into the pan and put it into the oven. Pondering what could have been wrong when the cake was half baked, I realized that I had forgotten the sugar.
The cake turned out golden and beautiful. It looked good! I proudly served my mother a square. She didn’t say anything about it being salty. She only said that it looked beautiful.
Many years later she admitted that the cake I had made was so salty it made her mouth pucker. That was Mummy - always encouraging and always looking for the best in others.


Anonymous Elsie Maki said...

My brother remembers the "Kalla Kukko" made by my mother and wondered if I could find a recipe for him. He said it would be a fish baked in a rye crust. I told him I have the perfect one to ask. I love your cookbooks!


6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've been baking my way through your new convection cookbook and have a question about one of the recipes. Does the honey wheat bread truly use no salt?


5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved watching you bake with Julia. I bought your book Great Scandinavian Baking Book. I have a question about the Finnish Blueberry Coffee Bread... at the end you say to use half the sugar with the blueberries, but where does the other half go? Sprinkled on top?

1:40 PM  
Anonymous connie said...

Thank you so much for your lefse recipe. While I grew up eating lefse, I never learned how to make it. We always got ours from the ladies at church. As an adult, I wanted to learn how to make it and waited patiently for the annual lefse baking session at church before Christmas. Imagine my surprise when they used potato flakes! Somehow that seemed wrong. Luckily someone heard me complain about this and passed your recipe on to me. Not only was it absolutely the best lefse I had ever eaten but I was incredibly easy to roll out. I was almost disappointed to find it wasn't hard to master. I have many requests for my lefse. Thanks again.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Charles Forsyth said...

What a great story!! I remember doing little things like this for my mother too, as a child...And it's funny to think of how sometimes you got creatively phrased praise...

3:55 PM  

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