Food for thought

50 years ago, I was studying catering at South East London Technical College. The two-year course consisted of practical cooking, housekeeping, nutrition, food hygiene and waiting at tables. Dishwashing machines were available, but we had to learn how to clean our greasy pans by hand as well because that’s how it was done in a busy professional kitchen, and probably still is.
I still have my course books and refer to them from time to time although seldom use the actual recipes now.
I worked as a cook for a few years but decided my heart wasn’t in it and took up office work instead.
One major difference I found in changing was the meaning of “urgent” between the work in a restaurant kitchen and the office.
As you can imagine, when a chef gets an order from the dining room, the dish has to be cooked then and not the next day. So, I had to adjust my thinking when at the office I was asked to do an urgent job in three days.
My first visits to Finland were an adventure in many ways and discovering local food was one of them. My wife’s family has many brilliant cooks and I wouldn’t class myself anywhere near them in skills or practical application.
During the summer visits the new potatoes were dug up from their own patch, needed only a brisk stir in water to remove the earth before cooking, and they tasted so good you hardly noticed what you had with them!
I caught a taste for sausages immediately and still could eat them several times a week if only there weren’t so many other delicious alternative choices in the shops to tempt me.
One fond memory of our early holidays is buying hamburgers at the popular kiosks on the way home from a night out. I often think we should do it again but somehow nowadays we’re never out late enough and hungry enough, which probably means that we’re just too old!
In 1971 we visited at Christmas time and tried to create a British Christmas dinner but had to make do with many alternatives to the ingredients, starting with the turkey which wasn’t to be found anywhere that we had time or an opportunity to search for it. It was ham from wall to wall everywhere so we ended up with a couple of broilers but the family appreciated our good intentions.
We brought the Christmas Pudding with us so at least that was authentic. I’ve never felt the need for a repeat performance even though the ingredients would now be easily found.
Finnish Christmas food is wonderful and practical because so much can be made in advance. The fragrance of all those bakes warming up is almost intoxicating! For a few years I had the honour of acting as an assistant to my sister-in-law when she made the fermented potato bake. It took all day and involved four people because both her husband and my wife took part in the process. It was my job to mash the potatoes and stir the concoction from time to time while it was resting prior to cooking.
I love food shopping here! Granted, my daily basket gets filled at Lidl with the basics but wherever I shop, I find the variety quite overwhelming and, not knowing the language, I don’t understand the descriptions.
My wife tries to educate me to look for the produce of Finnish origin, meat content markings in sausages, fat and sugar contents etc. and I do try but still sometimes pick up something she doesn’t quite approve of.
A Kauppahalli is a magnet to us wherever we go, and in Tampere obviously the one place to visit every time. On a rare occasion we manage to come out of there without buying anything but it makes us feel very guilty all the way home.
I must admit I haven’t got the taste for the black sausage – yet, so obviously have some way to go before being fully integrated into society. It’s not an altogether a strange food to me because black pudding is well known in Britain and in many regions an integral part of the famous British breakfast, but it’s never attracted me.
I’m fascinated by the new trends in food: the variety of pulled meats and meat substitutes seem to get larger and wider by a month!
We have tried Härkis and Nyhtökaura and very good they are. I don’t intend to become a vegetarian but why limit yourself when there is so much on offer!

Paul Dockree
Kirjoittaja muutti Lontoosta Ylöjärvelle vuonna 2012.
Author is British, moved from London to Ylöjärvi 2012.


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