Thursday, January 26, 2023
Jan. 26, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Reader shares memories, Finnish Coffee Bread recipe from ‘Grandma Hockinson’

Gerda J. Mattson, beloved figure and unofficial town historian, died in 1999 at age 98

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
6 Photos
Top: Daniel Kivinen displays artwork made by his grandmother at his Vancouver home. Gerda Mattson had a coffee shop in Hockinson where her Finnish coffee bread was in high demand. Above right and left: Finnish coffee bread, also known as pulla or nissua, is studded with fragrant cardamom seeds and topped with pearl sugar.
Top: Daniel Kivinen displays artwork made by his grandmother at his Vancouver home. Gerda Mattson had a coffee shop in Hockinson where her Finnish coffee bread was in high demand. Above right and left: Finnish coffee bread, also known as pulla or nissua, is studded with fragrant cardamom seeds and topped with pearl sugar. Above center: Gerda Mattson, pictured in 1982, was known as "Grandma Hockinson." (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Gerda J. Mattson knew how to bake. Born in 1900 in Kronoby, Finland, she later emigrated to the United States in 1906, catching sight of the Statue of Liberty rising out of the mists on Ellis Island. She lived in Astoria, Ore., for a few years before moving with her parents in 1915 to join the thriving community of Finns in Hockinson. She married George Mattson, raised a family and, in 1948, bought a small grocery with a coffee counter where she sold homemade pastries. She later opened a restaurant, Gerda’s Coffee Shop, on Northeast 159th Street across from the Hockinson school buildings.

By the time she retired in 1965, she was known as “Grandma Hockinson,” a beloved local figure and unofficial town historian. She was also an accomplished painter, dollmaker and a master of Finnish handicrafts — and she was famous around Hockinson for her Finnish coffee bread. Mattson’s grandson, 67-year-old Daniel Kivinen of Walnut Grove, recently contacted The Columbian to share his grandmother’s recipe for the sweet Finnish bread flavored with cardamom also known as pulla, nisu or nissua.

“The loaves were about 2 feet long and 5 or 6 inches wide,” Kivinen said. “She would sell the coffee bread anywhere from $1.75 to $2.75 or $3 per loaf. She would melt sugar cubes and then make her own white frosting to put on top. While the frosting was still warm, she would have crunched-up filberts and walnuts to sprinkle on top, whatever people wanted.”

Kivinen recalled how, when he was a boy of 10 or 11, he would help his grandmother bake 300 or 350 loaves at a time. Mattson would freeze them all and then pull out several loaves as needed to thaw and sell at her coffee shop, where the Finnish treat was always in high demand, Kivinen said. The sweet bread was only one of the many good things to be found in Mattson’s restaurant.

“She made breakfast, lunch and dinner. She made it all herself,” Kivinen said. “The grandkids on both sides of the family would help her wash dishes and set up tables.”

Mattson must have never lacked for help. Although her husband, George, passed away in 1941, Mattson had three children and 12 grandchildren.

Mattson operated Gerda’s Coffee Shop from 1953 until she retired in 1965. Kivinen said he mainly remembers the coffee shop as it was in the early ’50s, when he helped bake her popular coffee bread. Even after she stopped working, she kept busy and was the subject of several Columbian articles — about her prolific paintings, about the dolls she made and sold to fund a trip to Finland, and about her memories of immigrating to America as a 6-year-old girl. At the time of her death in 1999 at age 98, she’d become the matriarch of a large family with 22 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.

Clearly, Mattson knew how to feed a crowd and never shied away from hard work in the kitchen. She earned her moniker as the town grandparent, making sure that her community was fed even during times of crisis.

“When we had the Columbus Day storm come through the Vancouver and Portland area in October (1962), probably 85 to 90 percent of the power was knocked out in Clark County,” Kivinen said. “Grandma still ran the restaurant. She had a gas stove. She opened it at 6 a.m. and kept it open until 10 at night so people could eat until the power came back on.”

Kivinen has made the coffee bread a few times without his grandmother, he said. These days it would be tough for him to get into the kitchen at his retirement home and bake the loaves as he used to. Even if he can’t bake it now, he can still remember how good it tastes and was eager to share the recipe in honor of his extraordinary grandmother.

Gerda’s Finnish Coffee Bread

Makes 3 to 5 loaves

2 packages of yeast

½ cup warm water

2 cups of warm milk

½ cup melted butter

1¼ cup sugar

4 beaten eggs

1½ teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon salt

9 to 10 cups of flour

Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add milk, butter, sugar, eggs, salt, cardamom and then half of the flour. Let rest for 10 minutes, then add the rest of the flour, enough to make a soft dough.

Knead for 7 minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Divide the dough into 3 to 5 pieces (depending on how big you’d like your loaves) and then divide each piece into 3 strips. Braid and pinch the ends together and tuck them underneath.

Place the loaves on a sheet pan, cover and let it rise for 1 hour. Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. (Traditional recipes call for pearl sugar.) Bake at 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

If you prefer, make icing by mixing powdered sugar with milk and drizzle on top while the loaves are still warm and sprinkle with crushed walnuts or hazelnuts.

Share a recipe with Monika

Recipes are a way to travel back in time and recreate meaningful dishes shared with family or friends — just like this generations-old recipe for Finnish Coffee Bread from Gerda Mattson. If you have a recipe you’d like to share, send an email to monika.spykerman@columbian.com. Include the recipe with exact measurements and instructions, as well as your phone number and email address. If you can, please attach a photograph of yourself and a picture of the finished recipe.

Loading...