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Wednesday 8 June 2016

A kuksa (wooden vessel for food or drink) from Finnish Lapland

My Finnish friend Mika came to visit and had brought along his kuksa. A kuksa is a traditional Scandinavian vessel used for some foods and for drinking.  They are interesting to make and very comfortable to hold.

Mika's kuksa had been made near Raudanjoki (which means 'iron river') in the middle of Finnish Lapland. 

He described to me how a traditional kuksa is made from a burr (or 'burl' in the US) of birch (Betula sp.) that has grown in the far north of Scandinavia. Birch timber has no strong taste and is not toxic. These northern trees also grow more slowly and have denser timber than their more southerly-growing relatives, which makes them ideal to use.

A burr is a rounded growth caused by the tree dealing with an irritant or disease. It would be detached from the rest of the tree and then peeled to reveal the timber, which is then shaped using knives to create the kuksa. The rounded shape of the burr means that the grain travels in a curve around the bowl of the vessel, so it is stronger. The dots of dormant buds held in the grain pattern of the burr also help, as they break up the grain to reduce lines of weakness in the kuksa's bowl and so prevent damage to it.

Mika also told me that the first thing to be drunk from a new kuksa in Finland is usually good cognac. I was surprised, as it isn't a drink normally associated with Scandinavia. He explained that cognac is considered to be enhanced by being drunk from a kuksa and it also improves the vessel too, in a way that more traditional Scandinavian liquors such as aquavit or vodka don't. He used his to drink mainly coffee now and only washes it using water (not detergent) in the traditional way.

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