Bill Komula’s grandfather, John Komula, homesteaded some nice clear land near Brantwood, Wisconsin in 1899. It looked pretty clear because loggers had cut the trees; unfortunately, they had left the rocks behind. John had emigrated from Sotkamo, a city in Eastern Finland, which shares many features with northern Wisconsin: Lakes, trees, rivers and rocks.
Both Finland and Wisconsin were once covered by glaciers which, when they melted, left plenty of rocks scattered over the landscape. Some places in Wisconsin have good soil with only a few rocks to keep a farmer alert, but near Brantwood picking rocks was a regular spring activity.
“It was a rock farm,” Bill told me. “Picking rocks and shocking oats were my least favorite jobs.” I understood, for I had picked rocks and piled them on the stone boat at our neighbor’s farm when I was a boy. At least I was getting paid twenty-five cents a day for helping.
Bill’s reward was plenty of good Finnish food and learning Finnish from his grandfather. Bill’s grandmother had died when he was two weeks old, and John had given the farm to Bill’s father with the understanding that John would stay and help out. The old man spoke his native language as he and his grandson worked together. I wonder if Bill’s grandfather ever taught him the Finnish proverb that inspired so many immigrant farmers, “Oma tupa, oma lupa,” which means “One’s own home, one’s own master,” as they wrestled the rocks onto the sledge.
Since Bill’s mother had emigrated with her family from Kauhava, Finland, it is easy to understand why his first language was Finnish. Though he doesn’t speak it regularly here, when he and his wife Betty visited Sotkomo and Kauhava, people kept telling him that he didn’t have an American accent, and some people they visited in Helsinki recognized his accent as coming from Sotkomo.
Betty told me that she “didn’t have a drop of Scandinavian blood” in her ancestry, but she paid attention when her Finnish mother-in-law taught her how to make kropsu, the national baked pancake of Finland. She wrote the recipe neatly on a card and made notes on it as she cooked what became one of her family’s favorite treats. I’m sure that new daughters-in-law are still preserving family recipes as Betty did, though they may be typing them into apps on their smartphones or iPads.
Bill says that Betty learned to make kropsu just his like mother’s, so you can enjoy an authentic Finnish baked pancake in your home just by following Mrs. Komula’s recipe.
2 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 400º and put the butter in an 8 x 12 x 2 or 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan.
Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat them with a fork until they are lemon colored. Stir or sift the salt into the flour. Stir in a quarter cup of the flour mixture and two thirds cup of milk. Repeat until all the flour and milk have been stirred in. Put the pan in the oven to melt the butter and heat the pan.
Take the hot pan out of the oven. Make sure that the bottom of the pan is covered with butter. Stir most of the butter from the pan into the batter just enough to mix everything together. Pour the batter into the sizzling hot pan and bake the pancake for forty minutes.
Cut the hot kropsu into squares and serve with your favorite pancake toppings.
NOTES: Betty said that she made two pans of kropsu for breakfast, which was just enough for Bill, her and their three kids. Bill’s mother served it with maple syrup, and that’s how Betty serves it.
She told me that her mother-in-law said that the secret of success was “having a thin batter, beating only enough to mix the batter and having a very hot pan to bake it in.”
If you use regular butter, reduce the amount of salt to three-fourths teaspoon.
A note on pronunciation: If I heard Bill right, “kropsu” is pronounced “krrrupsuh” rather than “cropsue.” It’s a good word to practice rolling your “r’s” on.