When people visit Finland, their first impression is of a land with thousands of lakes, surrounded by pine forests. This, of course, means that freshwater fish, particularly perch, is popular. Another popular fish is the Baltic herring which is often pickled but is treated in almost every way imaginable.
With a short summer and long winter, the growing season is short and traditionally many vegetables have been pickled or preserved by one means or another. Cucumbers will be served with almost every meal in summer and then are pickled for consumption throughout the winter. Berries do well with long exposure to sunlight throughout the long days of summer and cultivated gooseberries and blackcurrants are particularly popular. Tomatoes too benefit from this exposure to sunlight and can have astonishing flavour. However, there is little to beat the abundance of wild blueberries, cloudberries, arctic brambleberries, lingonberries and other berries. Also abounding in the forests are mushrooms and it is traditional to go to the countryside to collect both mushrooms and berries.
In winter, with heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures, there is heavy reliance on meat for energy, and stews are the order of the day. Potatoes are a mainstay and were traditionally overwintered in cellars. They are the main starch and are served with every meal and will also generally be included in stews. In supermarkets you will find elk and reindeer on sale. These animals are plentiful in the north of the country.
Dark breads exemplify Finnish bread and sourdough rye bread is what is usually found. Coffee is very popular and is often served with pulla, the famous Finnish coffee braid. Apparently, if giving a coffee party, it is traditional to serve seven different types of cake or biscuit (US: cookie).
Finnish cooking is simple with little or no use of spices, although allspice is used in place of black pepper in many instances. This gives to Finnish food a characteristic flavour. Cardamom is often used in baking and dill is commonly used with new potatoes, fish and cucumbers. Favoured herbs used to flavour stews are marjoram and bay leaves.
Dessert soups are served, which consist of fruits made into soups, with starch, which may be as think as soup or as thick as a pudding. The thinner ones are often served with pancakes while the thicker ones stand alone. Pancakes are another staple of Finnish cuisine, to the extent that you can buy special 'plett' pans, which allow you to cook between four and six pancakes at a time.