Runeberg – a patriotic rapper of the 19th century

Finland’s national poet’s work is compared to the great European romantics. Despite of that J. L. Runeberg is better known by the tortes carrying his name and invented by his wife.

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Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a master in describing Finnish patriotism in his work, which include the Finnish national anthem among others.

If one visits Finland at the beginning of February as the whole nation celebrates by eating the quintessential Runeberg cake (Runebergintorttu), one might think that Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a baker. A very good one. But in fact the rasberry jam-topped muffin represents the man that gave the Finnish people self-esteem through a poem which subsequently led Finland to independence. The baker was his wife.

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) is the national poet of Finland who wrote in Swedish. His most famous work include the Finnish national anthem ‘Maamme’, The Tales of Ensign Ståls and Bonden Paavo (Paavo the Peasant).Photo: Finnish Literature Society, archives 

Stirring the patriotic spirit

In 1846 J. L. Runeberg wrote a poem as the prologue to The Tales of Ensign Ståls (Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat), an epic poem describing the events of the Finnish War (1808–1809). According to legend Runeberg’s friend Fredrik Pacius made the music to the poem in 15 minutes. It eventually became Finland’s national anthem ‘Maamme-laulu’. And it was Runeberg’s aim to stir the national Finnish patriotic spirit. Runeberg is considered the First Great Finn and his status became that of ‘national poet’.

Runeberg’s statue stands in Esplanade in Helsinki. On the pedestal of the statue is the Maiden of Finland holding a table with the words of the Finnish national anthem ‘Maamme’ written by Runeberg.

Runeberg’s statue stands in Esplanade in Helsinki. On the pedestal of the statue is the Maiden of Finland holding a table with the words of the Finnish national anthem ‘Maamme’ written by Runeberg.Photo: Emilia Kangasluoma

All of Runeberg’s works express the patriotic spirit of his countrymen. The Finland-Swedish lived his early life in central Finland where he made acquaintances with the peasants and the ordinary Finnish-speaking people. But he also tried his hands as a playwright and won a lasting fame as a lyric poet. Runeberg’s poetry is compared to that of the great European romantics.

The great lady

Behind, or at least beside, every great man there’s a great woman. So it was with Runeberg too. His great woman was his wife Fredrika Runeberg, a writer herself and a pioneer of Finnish historical novels. She managed the Runeberg household and their eight children in the city of Porvoo, a small pictoresque sea-side town 50 kilometres east of Helsinki.
The story goes that money was often tight in the Runeberg family, but Fredrika was a frugal manager and she knew how to deal with her husband’s sweet tooth and his grumpy moods. She incorporated bread crumbs from the night before, added punch and topped them with fruit from their garden. The Runeberg torte became part of the poet’s daily breakfast. And on 5 February the whole country celebrates Runeberg Day.

Fredrika Runeberg, the poet’s wife, was both a writer herself and a wonderful baker who created the famous Runeberg cakes.

Fredrika Runeberg, the poet’s wife, was both a writer herself and a wonderful baker who created the famous Runeberg cakes.Photo: Alfred Ottelin/Porvoo Museum

If Johan Ludvig Runeberg were alive today he most probably would be a socially conscious hip hop performer or a rapper in the style of Finnish artists like Paleface or Asa. His poems have been used by Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum.

Bake your own Runeberg’s cakes

The recipe below for the Runeberg’s cakes is taken from the Porvoo tourist information site. But creative license is allowed. For a lighter version heavy cream can be substituted with Greek yogurt, instead of bread crumbs one can use oat meals, and instead of wheat flour the healthy spelt flour and wheat germ can be used. The result is just as sweet so even Runeberg would have approved of it!
Runeberg’s cakes recipe

Runebergin torttu_flickr_hugovk_ BY-NC-SA 2.0__12544

Photo: hugovk/Flickr

By Carina Chela, February 2016

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