’m in the middle of the area known locally as “the Finnish Triangle,” sampling a highly unusual yogurt whose active culture arrived here 100-some years ago on a sun-dried rag. Every surface in Miriam Yliniemi’s bright kitchen is covered with a bowl or platter wearing a crinkled beret of aluminum foil. The bluish February sunshine shoots low through the large plate glass window, jumping from foil top to foil top and lighting up her kitchen like a disco. Even though I’d asked Miriam to just make the karjalan piirakka, traditional rye hand pies, she’s chosen to override me and instead make a feast that charts a day in the life of a Minnesota Finn, from morning to midnight snack. There’s a pile of flour-dusted ruis, Finnish rye bread; joulutorttu, flaky cream-rich star-shaped pastries with prune jam centers; a towering whipped cream cake topped with a mosaic of fresh fruit; and in the center of her stove, a large disk of “squeaky cheese,” fresh curds broiled to a speckled brown, still warm and weeping whey at the edges. Before I can wedge off my winter boots, she peels a soft plastic lid from a sky-blue Tupperware container and hands me the traditional Finnish breakfast: a cup of homemade yogurt dusted with a flurry of cinnamon sugar. “This is viili. Our yogurt. It sets at room temperature.” The viili has the consistency of custard but falls from my spoon in a long slithering cord. Stretchy like mastic, it has a disarmingly glutinous quality—a muscularity to it that suggests it might just keep on moving on its own. But that tension-hold breaks in the mouth, where it dissolves in a sweet puddle, its tartness soft like background noise. “What does viili mean in Finnish?” I ask, my crush on this yogurt progressing from flirtation to full-blown love by the third spoonful. “Wild,” Miriam says. And it is. The sourdough of yogurts, this culture needs no coddling or extra heat to activate. Stirred into milk, it gels on its own. “Miriam,” her husband, Elmer, coaxes from his easy chair in the nearby living room, “tell her the story!” But Miriam, a highly articulate woman who has nearly single-handedly kept Finnish food traditions alive for the area youth, who has translated three academic books from Finnish into English, waves him off with a tsk-tsk flip of her manicured silver hair. Turning her attention back to spooning creamy ovals of rice pudding onto thin coaster-size circles of rye dough, she quickly lines up rows of ruffled rye pies—machine-perfect karjalan piirakka.