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.