Growing up in a poor family, chef Hanna Gullichsen felt it embarrassing to ask for help when she was young. To erase the taboo nature of poverty, she would want there to be more open talk about money – and the lack thereof.
Chef and cookbook writer Hanna Gullichsen’s memories of childhood are both fantastically beautiful and somewhat miserable.
‘We lived in Puolanka, Kainuu. I remember swimming in the lake in the summer, the huge snow blankets in the winter and reading books on rainy days. My granny and I used to sit in the shed and read,’ says Gullichsen, who published the Hanna G kokkaa cookbook this autumn.
Then came the recession, and the family’s life turned upside down. The single mother had to sell the house. Hanna was in the third grade when the family had to move to Oulu for her mother’s studies, where her mother also worked two jobs.
‘At that time, our family was struggling to make ends meet; we were downright poor. I did realise as a child that the situation was bad when the only Christmas present I had was a pair of woollen socks made by my granny. At that time, I didn’t know enough to be embarrassed yet, more like concerned.’
Clothes and goods were bought at flea markets. Everything was skimped on – even food.
Poverty is not your own fault
Hanna’s family received food aid from her mother’s parents when the situation was difficult.
‘Grandpa and granny often gave us berries and game. That was real local food. Seasonal thinking in cooking still comes naturally to me because we always ate what was currently available in the wild,’ she reminisces.
Gullichsen’s background may well have had an impact on her becoming a professional in the food industry. As a child, she saw food as a great joy but also a necessity.
‘Food was truly appreciated. When we couldn’t have all the food we wanted, we respected what we had.’
Even though Gullichsen’s childhood memories of food were happy, she says that asking for help involved a certain shame. At the beginning of the 1990s, poverty was even more of a taboo than today. Poverty was embarrassing and it wasn’t much talked about.
Gullichsen thinks that money and the lack thereof are still not talked about enough:
‘Certain distorted ideas could be corrected by talking more openly about money. For example, it should be more clear to everyone that poverty is not anybody’s own fault.’
Gullichsen thinks that such concepts as ‘recession’ and ‘inflation’ should already be explained to children, because poverty is influenced by much bigger structures than the individuals themselves.
‘A teenager can’t understand why they can’t have new shoes – it would be good if they could at least understand that it’s not because of them,’ Gullichsen thinks.
Gullichsen has never been fully able to shed the shame related to asking for help.
‘I have noticed that it is still difficult for me to ask for any kind of help. But it’s important to remember that the helpers usually genuinely want to help and it makes them happy. I know from experience how much strength helping gives. Helping doesn’t hurt the helper,’ she says.
‘Every one of us needs help at some point in life. Every single one. There’s nothing strange or shameful about that.’
Good holiday spirit also requires money
We also need to talk about money at Christmas. Having a good Christmas does not necessarily require a lot of money, but just enough to not have to worry about where to get food on the table.
Gullichsen understands the position of a low-income family with children. According to her, the 70-euro Good Holiday Spirit food voucher is enough to gather a proper Christmas meal; you will even have delicious meals for several days.
What to get then? She would favour root vegetables: oven caramelised beetroots, carrots, potatoes and swedes. Onion soup is also a good holiday dish because it can be eaten for several days.
‘Along with these, pumpkin or some meat, for example. And don’t be afraid to put some Christmas spices like cardamom in all main courses,’ she tips.
For desert, Gullichsen recommends bundt cakes.
‘I don’t often bake myself, but at Christmas I can bake and bake. Banana cake, for example, because stores always have some suitably darkened bananas. And to top it off, a wonderful cream cheese frosting, for example.’
Hanna Gullichsen spends Christmas at home with her spouse and three children. Christmas is about settling down to spend time with the family. At Christmas, even an entrepreneur’s laptops stay closed.
‘The luxury of Christmas comes from eating a bit longer and taking the time to enjoy each other’s company.’
This year, she hopes for the same luxury for all low-income families with children. With money and food aid, it is possible to achieve this.
Donate to the Good Holiday Spirit collection.
Text: Henna Raatikainen
Photo: Mari Vehkalahti