I got this great viilistory from Lynn in Minnesota, an area with high density of Scandinavian immigrants. Thank you Lynn!
“It is a great joy for me to discover that you have made your project on viili. I live in Minnesota, which has a large number of Finnish immigrants that have eaten a great deal of viili during their life. Both my parents were 100% Finn and my mom always knew ‘someone…who knew someone’…who had a villi starter. I have many fond memories from my childhood of eating plain viili, or as we called it viilia, with fresh homemade bread or hardtack for my lunch. It was especially yummy and cool to eat in the hot summers. The starter was always considered to be like treasure to the ladies in the area, and any Finn woman who kept her viili starter going was considered to be very wise. I recall a winter when my mother allowed the viili to be completely eaten to make room in the refrigerator for holiday baking. She searched among friends and neighbors for a new starter. It was a great disappointment to find that the only bowl left belonged to a Mrs. Korpi, and she had passed away and the starter had gone bad. It is funny and curious that I clearly remember the grief among the older women as they discussed the need to locate a fresh starter at her funeral. As an adult, I realize today how precious that food was to the Finnish culture as a taste of the homeland. I grew up knowing that the starter must be protected as a link between us and them.
My dad’s family is from Sorila, Finland near Tampere. I believe that isn’t too far from Salo, both western towns. My grandparents were poor rural folk in Finland, but never went hungry because they had a couple of cows and made viili. They had a sauna, and on Saturday nights they invited neighbors for a bath and refreshing bowl of viili to cool down afterwards. Finns are very social people, in a quiet and understated way. They put out a table filled with home-smoked fish, rye breads, berries (they said Cloudberries were best), and the containers with the viili. There was plenty to share and plenty to talk about.
When I was in my early teens, relatives from Finland came to visit us. They were very surprised at how popular viili was still here among American-Finns. They said it was considered to be more of a ‘peasant’ food in modern Finland. But they eagerly ate it with my family and took back a starter to Finland. The viili that we served was from a starter that came over during World War II. To this day, I still crave a cold bowl and am looking for my own starter seed. My sister, nieces, and cousins are all hoping that I find one and share it with them. The tradition to have a bowl or Mason jar on the kitchen counter full of viili is a cherished part of our heritage. I have tried earnestly to explain to my children the process of waiting for the viili to be ready and the satisfaction of consuming a bowl. They think I am crazy to enjoy milk that sat out all night and turned into a gelatinous mass of unflavored yogurt. They can’t understand that if you were hungry, a bowl of viili would fill you. If you didn’t have much appetite, a bowl with some peach slices would be just right. Or if you had a tummy ache, that same viili would mysteriously clear up the stomach problem. I still wonder at the mystery of this wonderful food!
In fact, I found your cultural research project as I searched the internet for a source to buy a starter. I told my Finnish friend that I was going to get a starter and would be sharing with people soon. I can only say that she gave me that content knowing look that passes between people who have shared a bowl of viilia many years ago. The thought makes me miss my aiti and the many other foods that came over to this country. Oh, please…I want Finnish Squeaky Cheese now!
Hope your research is a success. ”