This day 208 years ago, the Finnish national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg was born in the small town of Jakobstad on the west coast of Finland. One of Runeberg’s poems (Fänrik Ståls sägner) provides the lyrics to the Finnish anthem (known as “Maamme“; “our land”), and he is celebrated annually with an official flag day on the anniversary of his birth.

One of the traditions associated with Runeberg’s day is the Runebergin kakku (“Runeberg’s cake”). Tradition has it that Runberg’s wife, Frederika, invented this cake when her husband wanted something sweet to eat, but she didn’t have the ingredients for a standard cake (see the Finnish Wikipedia entry). So, Frederika used some of the ingredients that she did have available, including almonds and biscuit and bread crumbs – and the result was obviously a success. It is thought that the recipe is a modification of that used by a confectioner,  Lars Astenius,  in the Runeberg’s home town of Porvoo, and the cake soon became famous. You can find various recipes for this cake here, here and here. I don’t know how Frederika (or Lars) would have originally cooked the cake, but these days it is baked as tall cup cakes. Add in the characteristic icing and jam topping, and it makes for a very distinctive treat. Leading up to Runeberg’s day you can find Runebergin kakku in all the shops and cafeterias. Runeberg’s wife, an author herself, also has a cake named after her – the Frederika kakku – you can find a recipe for that here (click here for the Google-translated version).

In Helsinki there is a statue of Runeberg in Esplanadi park – a very prominent position (see a photo and more details here). The memorial was created by Runeberg’s son, Walter, and comprises an image of Runeberg and a second figure (“The Maiden of Finland”) holding a tablet inscribed with the words from the Maamme. Apparently there is no inscription on the memorial explaining who it is of, because it was thought that it would be evident to all. If travelling to Porvoo, you can visit Runeberg’s old house, now preserved as a museum.

If you’d like to read a bit more about Runeberg, FinnGuide provides a concise summary of Runeberg’s history here. Or if you’d prefer to read some of Runeberg’s poems, you can find them freely available through project Gutenberg (written in Swedish, with some translations into Finnish).


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