Scandinavian cultures -- particularly the Swedish -- celebrate Midsummer with nearly as much food and fanfare as most cultures celebrate Christmas. After a day of games and dancing around the maypole, the biggest draw to a Midsummer celebration is a Midsummer smorgasbord spread with traditional foods. Celebrated on the weekend closest to June 24, Midsummer includes a "sill" lunch, dinner, beverages and desserts, all featuring seasonal produce and local meats.
Sweden's location along the Baltic Sea and long coastline make fish -- particularly herring -- and seafood a staple in Scandinavian cuisine. Both dinner and sill lunch, translated to herring lunch, feature a variety of pickled herring dishes served with sour cream or creme fraiche and chives. To make a silltarta, Swedish herring cake, press a mixture of rye bread crumbs and butter into a pan. Top the crust with a mixture of chopped pickled herring, onion, cream cheese, sour cream, chives and gelatin. Chill it for several hours to set the filling and top it generously with fresh chopped chives. Pack salmon with salt, sugar and dill to make gravad lax, cured salmon. Refrigerate it for a few days to cure the salmon. Serve with knackebrod, or crisp bread. Complete the meats spread with homemade Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam.
No Midsummer celebration would be complete without dishes featuring new potatoes, which are in season at Midsummer. Sour cream, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, vinegar, boiled eggs, capers, chives and dill blended together make a potato salad to complement the seafood dishes. First, boil the new potatoes until tender, keeping the thin, delicate skins intact. Allow butter to melt over the potatoes and toss gently to coat. Toss the potatoes with your choice of vinegar or sour cream and mayonnaise. Add capers and chopped boiled eggs, if desired, and season it to taste with salt and pepper. The potato salad can include chives and dill together, or choose only one herb. Use fresh herbs generously so the flavors feature prominently in the dish. Finish a smorgasbord spread with a fresh garden salad and an assortment of pickled foods, cheeses and dark bread.
A Midsummer celebration and joyful imbibing go hand in hand, so stock the coolers and decanters with plenty of alcoholic refreshment. Serve pickled herring and other fish dishes with nubbe or Swedish schnapps -- aquavit is a particular favorite. Make your own aquavit if you can't find it in your area. Start with potato vodka; add spices and herbs to infuse it with flavor. Common spices include caraway seed, fennel, dill, orange zest, anise, ginger and cinnamon. Infuse the vodka for at least one day before straining it for a mild-flavored aquavit or for a week or longer for a bold flavor infusion. Guests will never make it through the night on aquavit alone, so offer some beer, wine and water as optional beverages. Soft drinks and juices are acceptable drink offerings for children.
Fresh strawberries ripen around Midsummer in Sweden and feature prominently in smorgasbord dessert options. Serve bowls piled high with freshly picked strawberries with a dish of creme fraiche for dipping. Most Midsummer feasts include a jordgubbstarta, a layer cake with plenty of strawberries and cream. Stack alternating layers of thin sponge cake, creme fraiche, or whipped cream and strawberries. Alternatively, bake a single-layer sponge cake, cover it with whipped cream icing and top it with a mound of fresh, ripe strawberries. As a richer dessert option, top a cheesecake with a mound of strawberries. A sticky chocolate cake called kladdkaka also pairs well with fresh strawberries and cream. While strawberries are the most celebrated fruit, desserts made with other fresh berries, such as a berry tart, are welcome on a Midsummer dessert table.
- The Kitchn: Celebrate Solstice Like a Swede: A Guide to Swedish Midsummer
- Saveur: Menu: A Swedish Midsummer Celebration
- Utah Public Radio: Midsummer Is Here: Celebrate with a No-Bake Herring Cake
- Serious Eats: Serious Entertaining: Swedish Midsummer
- Serious Eats: DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Aquavit
- Journal Sentinel: You Can Celebrate Midsummer Like a Scandinavian
- Saveur: A Midsummer's Dream
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.