making traditional rhubarb soup

Kiiseli is a fruit soup from Finland that generations of my family grew up making. This family recipe is drawn from my mother’s best advice, her 1966 Finnish cookbook, a peek through my grandmother’s 1948 cookbook and a family friend’s 1933 cookbook. It’s a recipe you can easily grow in your own garden, too. With all that research, your kiisseli should make a fine old fashioned (yet gluten and dairy-free!) dessert.


The ingredients

We’re going to need:
1 litre water
750 grams chopped rhubarb
200 grams sugar or alternative, to taste
4 tbsp fine potato, tapioca or arrowroot flour

The method

Cook the rhubarb in the water for a short while til softened. Add sugar to taste. (I like to pop up the sweetness with a few drops of stevia, and drop the sugar.) My mother usually adds the strawberries when finished cooking to retain their freshly picked flavour. Dissolve potato flour in a small amount of cool water and then stir the solution very well into the rhubarb mix, heating til it just begins to boil. Take the soup off the heat, and sprinkle a little sugar on top to prevent a skin forming. Serve it cool.

Eating rhubarb soup with ice

Double cream or ice cream is gorgeous with kiiseli. In spring we love combining rhubarb & strawberries, or in the summer, blueberries & raspberries. I love to think of all my relatives, a long time ago, maybe on the farm in Finland, making kiiseli, eating it together round the table. We have pictures of our children as toddlers, painted with rhubarb soup.


Fruit potager

Rhubarb and strawberries are both easy, early perennials to grow in a corner or pot somewhere, we have ours as a pretty understory to a fruit tree, white wisteria, marshmallow plants and hollyhocks. I look forward to the moment our rhubarb is tall enough to twist off stalks for rhubarb soup!

fishing lessons

On the lake we are learning to fish. My young cousin taught the girls patiently, and reminded me of knowledge I had years ago, fishing with grandfathers and uncles, on rivers and oceans, fishing for goldeye, rock cod, salmon. Our Finnish heritage is fine-tuned to forests and lakes, you can see us all settle in the way you do when you get home.


This lake is tiny and perfectly formed. It was named Teanook Lake by Emily Carr herself, who rode in on her buggy to paint it nearly a century ago. Can you picture her here? With a flask of tea, I think. I’ve been photographing its beauty daily, in all its Monet-like changes, and could go on for a lifetime. My tall girl wants a paintbox to continue the tradition.

fishing lessons

Getting the hang of angling isn’t so hard – and then, oh, what a pleasing game. The arc and whistle, the bobbing movement, the timing, the winding and watching. The tension of the line! Catching it with your finger, holding til you let go at just the right moment – I tell you, the knitters in my history met the fisherfolk, and they nodded in appreciation. Any sort of practice that requires silence, stillness, observation, a bit of skill, I love it. If this was your only opportunity for meditation, it would be enough.

fishing lessons

My tall girl got it quickly and landed a small fish on her first go – it was exuberantly celebrated and promptly sent back. In less than a moment the children fell in love with fishing on the lake, and they want their own tackle, their own rods.

fishing lessons

How I’ve longed to return to fishing! It took me a few tries to remember how, it’s been easily 30 years since my grandfather took me out for my own fishing lessons on Winnipeg river. We’d stay in a spot for a matter of minutes; if there weren’t any bites we’d move on to another. My father would nap, hat over the eyes. Once, as a small girl, I caught eighteen goldeye in a row. My little Finnish grandmother would race up the steps to the old family cottage and down to where the fish were cleaned and smoked. I can recall the flavour like it was last night’s dinner, and see my grandfather eating fish soup at the red gingham-covered table. I didn’t know then how lucky I was.

Oh, we’d race down the dock and jump into that river after a sauna as I’d love to jump into this lake – without a sauna it’s still too cold for wild swimming, this rainy late May.

fishing lessons

I bet all the old folks would be deeply pleased to see the next generation of cousins out on the dock together, still fishing. It pleases me ever so much.

Do you love learning old-time skills too? You might like to see the the old school movies. Don’t miss my next projects, get the postcards!

little loom

When I was a little girl I was given a little loom and would work with it for hours. Now it belongs to my children, and we all weave pretty little things with it.

title="loom © elisa rathje 2012

I’ve begun to learn to spin my own yarn, on a wheel and on the drop spindle, and I made off with the loom to try weaving the stuff. I fell over when I saw how beautifully the slubby yarn weaves, subtle variations in shade and tremendous variations in thickness. I’ve heard that slubby yarn is the most expensive, because once you know how to spin it is difficult to reproduce those textures, like trying to draw in the charming hand of a child. My spinning is distinctly charming, yet. Lumpy. My weaving is very basic, but I absolutely adore it.

I wove every bit of our homespun yarn, and will need to card some of the fleece I bought, ambitiously, to continue. It is such a little loom, there isn’t so much you can make with the narrow pieces, but it is such a pleasure and makes me think of my mother and her family, in Canada and in Finland, sharing looms to make rag rugs and beautiful weavings. Now I’m acutely inspired to weave on a larger scale. If I can just find a friendly person with a loom. I dream about it! Entrancing process.

birch bark rings

In honour of Midsummer’s night, a little story. When I was a little child of seven, I traveled with my European parents to their homes. We came to Scandinavia at Midsummer, bonfires all night on the beach, when the sun merely touches the horizon and bounces up again. In verdant Finland, my mother’s home, I was given a remarkable present.

birch bark © elisa rathje 2011

A birch bark ring. Elfin thing. I treasured it for many years. The tiny folded ones I came upon this weekend are just like the one I had. I bought two at the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, one for each of my little girls. They are handmade following a simple traditional pattern.

birch bark © elisa rathje 2011

One for my sweetheart who is far away from me today, and one for my own hand. The old story goes that a Finnish lad, fallen in love, would fashion a ring out of birch bark, to give to his sweetheart and ask her to marry him.

birch bark © elisa rathje 2011

I love the circular impressions on the large rings. The rings are like leather, rubbed and twisted into solid bands.

birch bark © elisa rathje 2011

The fellow who made these is often at the Fair, he loves to make many traditional Finnish wood and bark pieces. I recognise them from all over my mother’s house. He calls the large bands wedding rings, and says the circles represent years of marriage. I hope to visit Finland with my little family someday, and Midsummer would be the perfect time. It’s been almost thirty years since I was there, but the lakes and cabins, the saunas, the wonderful traditional foods, oh, I remember it all so clearly. Happy Solstice! Do you mark the coming of summer? We’re planning a day of beachcombing and making sculptures in celebration of the warm season.