I made Asian dumplings for dinner yesterday. Making the little pleats on the dumplings reminded me of a childhood moment with my grandmother. In my memory, she was teaching me how to make Karelian pies (Karjalanpiirakka in Finnish), a traditional dish from the Karelia province where she had her childhood home. She had one pie in front of her, and I had one. We were standing side by side in the kitchen and she was showing me how to carefully make the little pleats on the sides of the pie. This memory made me want to prepare these pies today.
My grandmother was born in Karelia, a former province of Finland. During the Winter War (WWII) the Soviet Union attacked Finland and her family had to evacuate from the lost territory. Before the war, Karelian pies (among other local dishes like the Karelian stew) were only known locally. After the war, the displaced Karelian residents introduced these pies to the rest of the country and they started to become popular. Today, these pies are considered to be such an essential part of our culture that they have gotten the European Traditional Speciality Guaranteed -protection status.
Traditionally, these simple pies were filled with barley or potato porridge. Rice porridge became the most popular filling when rice started being readily available. The main ingredient of the wrapping is rye, which gives these pies a special savory flavor. Wheat is added into the dough to give it elasticity.
Some special tools are traditionally used in the baking process. A special Finnish pie rolling pin is called Pulikka. My grandmother used a dried rabbit’s foot instead of a brush to wipe off the extra rye flour off the wrappers. I used the same foot as a kid and I think that it works better than a normal brush.
There are many ways of shaping the pies. Some people like them rounder in shape and others like them oval. There are also varying opinions on how many pleats each side should have. My grandmother would probably not have fully approved of these Karelian pies that I made as the pleats are quite large. If they were smaller and closer to each other, they wouldn’t burn as easily in the oven.