Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some Historical Research...

Today, I went to the Cape Ann Historical Museum in Gloucester to see if I could find any historical information about the Finnish community in Lanesville. The librarian at the archive was helpful and pointed me to some resources.

The first was a paper called "The Finns in Lanesville, Massachusetts", by Helen Babson. It appeared that this paper was published in October 1919 in the Studies in Sociology - Social Monograph No. 13, Vol. IV, No. 1. The age of the paper did not surprise me when I came upon the publication date at the end of the document -- the tone of much of the paper is what I would describe as patronizing - talking about how best to "Americanize" the Finnish immigrants, etc.. You can read the paper here, if you like.

But getting beyond the superior tone of the author, there was some interesting information. It seems that the first Finnish settlers on Cape Ann were two fisherman who arrived in 1885. They heard that work was available in the quarries, so they abandoned their ship and made their home in Gloucester. They wrote to their friends back home, who spread the word and began to immigrate to Cape Ann.

Between 1892 and 1900, 1400 Finnish people were living in Lanesville. The author suggests that almost all of them came from the Vaasa region. Vaasa is a coastal city which is considerably farther south than Haapajärvi, where my great-grandmother came from. Here is a link to the Vaasa Tourist Board -- guess what - it is the sunniest city in Finland :-)

Single women who came over from Finland would most likely have been employed as a maid. In fact, some of the Finnish women who first came to Lanesville established informal "employment bureaus" with housekeeping jobs for single women. In 1895, a Finnish woman employed as a maid would make $1 to $2 per week initially. If she learned English, her wages might increase to $3 per week. But, most women got married before they fully learned English.

Many of the men had been quarry workers in Finland, so it was natural that they would bring their skills to Gloucester. The quarry employees worked 10 hours per day and they made 13.5 cents an hour! Now making $1.35 a day does not seem like very much money -- but, compare it with the women maids who might only make $1 per week.

The stone workers were an enterprising bunch. Apparently in the late 1800's, the demand for granite changed from very large blocks which could be used to construct buildings, to small paving stones that might be used to build roads. The Finnish stone cutters left the quarries and went out on their own. They would find boulders and rock outcroppings in fields and open land in Gloucester, cut paving stones, and then sell them to buyers, thus cutting out the quarry from the transaction. By 1907, however, demand for paving stones declined. At that point, the stone cutters returned to the quarries or they went to work in mills in Worcester or Pittsfield.

There was a short piece in Babson's paper about food. She indicates that fish was the principal meat and was usually fried. She also describes the Reikä Leipä rye bread. An interesting line is: "These loaves are made in large numbers with a long time between bakings, and to the American palette, are sour and disagreeable in taste." What was it about how the rye bread was made which made it sour? Perhaps they used a sort of sourdough "starter"? I wonder what Reikä Leipä tastes like today in Finland?

The Museum Library had a small collection of cookbooks. They had the Lane's Cove Cookbook and the Recipes and Finnish Specialties Cookbook which I have been using. The other local cookbooks did not have any Finnish recipes, so alas, no new material to try!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Karen and Greg
You asked about finnish ryebread "reikä leipä (reikä means hole and leipä is bread = a bread whit a hole) That true it is a round flat bread with a hole in the middle. The hole was for drying, older days, as you write, they baked in farm houses twice a year and the bread was hung on kitchen roof by put a pole trough the hole and then hung the poles whit between 50 and 100 bread each up on roof.
Finnish rye is sour and its soured by as u wrote by starter, sourdough. It was baked in some short "half barrel" which was never washed. Bakers drayed they dried it and next time they baked there was a sourdough-stater on the walls of barrel.
Every Finnish old-fashion farmer women got they very own sourdough, which they guarded and was ( and is) very proud of it goes heritage from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. I can imagine that some of Finnish Women immigrants got their baking barrel with sourdough in it whith them when their immigrated.
I gues you can buy that kind of bread i US some special shops, its marketed whit name FINN-CRISP. finn crisp dont look an old fashion reikäleipä but taste is quit same. Actually FinnCrisp is made in Vaasa.

You can still buy that kind of sour ryebread every finish supermarket. fresh and dyed.

U can read more about finnish rye bread in Wikipedia: