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Pine bark – The health food of the sámi

Pine bark contains a layer of cambium and phloem that can be detached from the tree and eaten. In the Sámi food economy, pine bark has been used in diverse ways; it has not only been eaten in the form of bark bread to avoid starving in times of crop failure. Earlier, the Sámi considered pine bark as a health food, and, for many, the bark was a delicacy that was thought highly of and eaten every day.

A good pine to get bark from grew in a lush area; it was a young, light and slender pine which had a thin bark and no branches. Its diameter by the base was 25–35 cm. Usually, the part of the bark to be eaten was taken from the pine in the early summer – before 29 June, the day of Pietari – when the bark came loose easily. After detaching bark in sheets, the sheets were carried, with the help of a holder, home. There, the remaining outer bark was scraped off. The fresh sheets of inner bark were dried above the fireplace. After drying for about a day, the sheets were placed on a birch grid and roasted in the glow heat of willow coals.

The evacuation period that the older Skolt Sámi spent in Ostrobothnia was a time when the Sámi missed their home region but also their pine bark dishes. After the war, older Skolt Sámi from the Suonikylä area still prepared bark and ate it more or less on the quiet, because they were supposed to pay for the trees that they took bark from – and too much, they thought.

There were special tools that were used for making bark flour. The bark was detached from the pine with a vyetkim, a broad chisel that was 20 cm long and made from reindeer antler. The phloem, in turn, was detached from the bark with a kollom, a small, flat chisel made from antler. The bark sheets were ground with the help of a nordamas, a bark spud that had two blades and a wooden handle. The grinding was done on the skin side of a reindeer hide. The person doing the grinding would first form a hollow into the centre of the hide. Then the bark sheets that had been dried and roasted were placed into this hollow in small pieces. The pieces of sheet were ground with a spud until they were the size of oatmeal. Then, they were put into an empty flour sack or in a big birch bark cylinder called keeu´lek. The sacks and the cylinders were kept in a storehouse.

From the bark, the Skolt Sámi prepared porridge (piets´hutt). In summer, the porridge was made into fish stock in connection with cooking fish that had been caught with a seine. When the fish were done, they were lifted into a wide wooden bowl, kää´rr, or a birch bark dish, and the stock was poured over bark grain or flour. The porridge did not need further boiling. In winter, the bark flour was mixed with greasy stock derived from boiling reindeer meat.

The Inari Sámi prepared a dessert soup called peecimääli from pine bark. In summer, after boiling fresh fish, the stock was mixed with bark grain and rye flour in a rectangular birch bark dish; furthermore, the grease collected from the top of the fish stock could be mixed with fresh, crushed bark and berries. The Inari Sámi also used pine bark and rye flour to prepare flat bread and a thick dish called soos which consisted of pine bark, rye flour and whitefish roe. They also prepared a “snack” called rachts from bark, roe and reindeer milk.

Abridged by Áile Aikio from a text by Ritva Kytölä.



Itkonen, T. I: Lappalaisten ruokatalous, Suomalais-ugrilaisen seuran toimituksia 1981, 1st edition 1921

Kytölä, Ritva: Kaarnikasta kalanpaistokeppiin

Parviainen, Riitta: Luonnonkasvien käytöstä Suomen Lapissa, University of Turku, Department of Biology 1983

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