Last time I wrote on the subject, some of you–some of us–looked at me in puzzlement, your little faces frowning sweetly. Just what is a Moomin, Claire? Oh! What fun we shall have, as I show you. And if you already know, hold tight, we’re debuting a new feature at the bottom of the post!
A Moomin is a sort of troll, found in Finland. More specifically, it’s found in Moomin Valley, which is the heart of the various Moomin books, comics, animated series, stage plays, puppet shows, toys, artwork, and real life fun parks. The Moomins and their friends and enemies are creations of Swedish-speaking Finnish artist (in the largest sense of the word) Tove Jansson, who would have been one hundred this year! Tove was helped and inspired by various generations of her close family and by her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä. It’s wonderful to know, because the warmth and compassion towards fellow (although fictional) sentient beings that’s evident in the crafting of Moomins characters can only make a body feel good. How thoughtfully Jansson must have considered her people.
From their first book in the 1940s to the brand-new and upcoming Moomins on the Riviera, a silver-screen adaptation of the early comic strip, the Moomins have been charming the socks off of adults, children, and family pets. But the fans, and you and I, are not here just for the kawaii. If you go down to the woods in Moomin Valley, you’re taking your safety in your hands. There’s the great, mournful, freezing Groke, for one thing. You’re at the mercy of Little My for another. And in every Moomin story, whether for a child at bedtime or for a newspaper reader, there’s just enough space left between the lines for danger. A parent risks the most terrible lie when they say, “Everything will be okay. I promise”, and a Moomin narrative is well aware of everything that could–and one day will–fail.
Graphics cropped from Moomins.com
Comet in Moominland, for example, is about the end of the world. A comet is coming, the sea has fallen back, and everything is getting rather hot. Who should you tell? What can you do? Will you survive if you hide in the caves? Moomin, his friends Sniff and Snufkin, and parents Moominmama and Moominpapa are going to find out no matter how much they’d rather not. Read it to your six year old. The Moomin novels are illustrated by Jansson’s ink drawings: confident and robust as a country lad fed on apples and homemade jam, but scratchy and chiaroscuro-heavy when appropriate. Jansson’s knack for atmosphere isn’t flattened by translation, but it’s interesting to see the brighter backgrounds and small-panelled focus of her comic strips. Some could say a translated comic has more of its original creator left in it than a mostly-prose novel. When you read Drawn & Quarterly’s Moomin strip collections, don’t rush through and miss the details laced into some lucky panel outlines. Do they add to the story? I don’t know. But do they remind you to stop and smell the roses, plant potatoes, and dream? Oh yes! The Moomins wear a lot of guises, but they mean the most to me as lifestyle role models. Not to carbon copy, but to learn from and navigate by. Many people use stories in this way, but the Moomins have such a strong sense of place, and of demeanour, and their values are so well reinforced. The temptations that cause them to stray from these values are respected, too, and that’s a very valuable thing. So you might like to be famous and adored? You might like baubles and trinkets or to keep secrets out of spite? You’re still a human. Or a Moomin. A lot of my most Moomin-loving friends are also vocal and straightforward about their mental health and self-care needs. I don’t know if there are obvious links for them, but I certainly find that these stories help me give myself a break.
As I warned you, this has all been a long, fond preamble to a prospective new regular feature: I’ll Try It! It’s terribly important for me to be able to cook my own food, and eat it. It calms me down and shapes me up. I’m big on “themed recipes” and like I said, the Moomins are best when they’re showing you how. So when I heard that there was an officially released Moomins Cookbook, my heart was gone. “I WILL try it”, I thought, and I did.
There’s a character in Comet in Moominland who appears here and there afterwards, often in his hammock. He’s called The Muskrat, because he is a muskrat, and he is a total beatnik asshole. He thinks he is a philosopher. You know the type. The Moomins Cookbook has a recipe for The Muskrat’s Traditional Cookies (the Muskrat hates cake.) On Sunday, I made some! Would you like to be given a creative, comics-related challenge to try? Would you like to write it up for us as a guest post afterwards? Drop me an email or get in touch in comments or on twitter.
I’ll try it! Moomin Muskrat Biscuits
These biscuits are pretty strange. They’re very airy, cake-y, with a similar but softer texture to ladyfingers. I expected them to dry out overnight and go snapping-hard, but they did not. It’s pretty hard dough to handle, a lot wetter than expected, and I had to add several spoonfuls of flour more than the recipe suggested. Maybe my eggs were too big? I always buy large and the recipe doesn’t specify.
We didn’t have any ground cinnamon, which was a huge stumbling block! That’s the only flavouring agent! But I do have a pestle & mortar, and Mind, my Thai pen-pal, sent me some cinnamon sticks back in January… so it was clobbering time. Grinding your own cinnamon takes quite a while, and leaves you with small, manageable, but definitely present, lumps. These don’t matter, though, because it turns out the fresh cinnamon powder is sublime. An easy winner even against the best supermarket bottled options.
You need a bowl, a whisk, something to measure your ingredients in and enough surface area to roll your dough on, as well as a baking tray and grease-proof paper. Our paper went ungreased, because we ran out of butter and threw away the paper packaging before it could be rubbed over the tray, but the biscuits didn’t stick as much as you’d expect. They came off in one piece each. Plenty of crumbing, but crumbs to eat up are a bonus of home baking.
There was enough dough for thirty-two biscuits, which will last you and a friend about three days. They’re good biscuits. They plump up so cutely in the oven that you’ll need to space them well if you don’t want to hand separate your biscuits after cooking! Moomins Cookbook Muskrat’s Traditional Biscuits? Verdict: