The Midsummer Festival is a several-hundred-year-old Scandinavian tradition that celebrates the Summer Solstice. The Swedes call the day Midsommar; the Finns, Juhannus (the Feast of St. John the Baptist); the Danes, Sankt Hans; and the Norwegians, Sankthansaften or Midtsommer.
Many of the customs associated with Midsummer’s Day are derived from pre-Christian festivals of light and fertility that marked the longest day of sunlight in the year. Celebrations include decorating homes with garlands of wildflowers and gathering ‘round a bonfire or maypole to dance with family and friends, often accompanied by traditional music and the wearing of folk costumes.
Here in the North Country, as in Scandinavia, the end of a cold winter and welcoming the sun of summer can be appreciated. On this bright, warm evening, set your table outdoors, drape it with a colorful cloth, add some small vases of wildflowers and a few votive candles, and enjoy your meal Scandinavian-style.
Smaklig Måltid! Enjoy your meal!
Assorted Crackers and Cheese
Summer Berries with Bay Leaf Custard
Assorted Crackers and Cheese
To begin the meal, offer your guests a variety of crisp Scandinavian crackers and cheese. Try crackers such as Wasa, Finn Crisp, Kavli.
Some of my favorite cheeses are Danish Blue Castello, Norwegian Gjetost (especially the Tine Ekte Geitost), Saga Blue, Danish Havarti, and Norwegian Nokkelost.
Agurkesalat Pickled Cucumber Salad (Denmark)
Cucumber salads are popular throughout Scandinavia.
2 large or 3 medium cucumbers
1/3 cup sour cream
2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
2 Tbs. white vinegar
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 Tbs. chopped chives
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Scrub the wax coating (if any) from the cucumbers. Score the cucumbers lengthwise with a fork and cut into the thinnest possible slices. Spread slices to dry on paper towels.
In a bowl, combine sour cream, dill, vinegar, sugar, chives, salt, and pepper. Gently fold in cucumbers. Cover and chill before serving.
Smörgåstårta Savory Sandwich-Torte (Sweden)
Serves 10 to 12.
Cook’s Note: The perfect make-ahead party fare, smörgåstårta (not to be confused with “smorgasbord”) features layers of bread, creamy fillings, and fresh decorations—a beautiful and delicious feast for your guests.
40 slices thin firm white sandwich bread (from two 1-pound loaves), crusts removed
For egg salad filling:
8 hardboiled large eggs, finely chopped
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tsp. drained capers, chopped
For smoked ham filling:
12 oz. smoked ham, finely diced
1 1/2 cups crème fraîche
4 Tbs. chopped sweet pickles or gherkins
For cream cheese filling:
1 cup whipped cream cheese
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
3 Tbs. finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, and chives
For herb topping:
1/3 cup each finely chopped fresh parsley, dill, and chives
Whole herb sprigs, for garnish
In three separate bowls, combine all ingredients for each filling. Season with salt and pepper.
On an upside-down baking sheet lined with parchment paper or wax paper, arrange 8 bread slices side-by-side in two rows of four slices each to form a rectangle. Top bread with half of egg salad filling, spreading evenly, and cover with 8 more bread slices, pressing gently on top and sides to form an even layer.
Spread second layer of bread with half of ham filling, and cover with 8 bread slices to form an even layer. Top the third layer of bread with half of cream cheese filling, spreading evenly, and cover with 8 bread slices. Make layers with remaining ham filling, remaining 8 bread slices, and remaining egg salad filling.
Trim the sides of torte, and spread remaining cream cheese filling on sides. Cover torte with plastic wrap, and chill at least 12 hours and up to two days.
Sprinkle topping in an appealing pattern, such as vertical strips, over egg salad layer. Garnish with few whole dill and parsley sprigs. Carefully slide torte to a large serving platter or baking sheet covered with foil. Cut torte into small pieces and serve.
—Adapted from my Swedish friend, Kiki Demeroukis
Summer Berries with Bay Leaf Custard (Norway)
The complexity of the bay leaf flavor enhances this traditional, seasonal dish.
Serves 4 to 6
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 cup whole milk
1-1/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
2 to 3 bay leaves, preferably fresh, plus 4 to 6 for garnish, if desired
2 pounds mixed berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and currants, stemmed and, if appropriate, hulled
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick. In a medium saucepan, combine the egg yolk mixture, milk, cream, and bay leaves. Cook on low to medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens and leaves a velvety coating on the back of a wooden spoon. If you are using a thermometer, cook the custard to about 175°F. Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle.
Remove it from the heat as soon as you have obtained the right thickness. Continue stirring for 2 more minutes. Leave the bay leaves in the custard while it cools, then remove them.
Place the berries in individual dishes, pour the custard over, garnish with bay leaves, if desired, and serve.
—Adapted from New Scandinavian Cooking by Andreas Viestad
One of Denmark’s fine beers, Aquavit, the popular Scandinavian drink flavored with caraway and anise, or a dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, a Rhine Spätlese, or Alsatian white.
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