Celebrating the summer solstice dates back thousand of years, to before Christian times. Honoring the longest day of the year has carried on throughout the centuries, and there are important midsummer celebrations held across Northern Europe.
One of the countries best known for its midsummer celebration is Sweden. Here, in a land where the sun is held captive for many months of the year, the arrival of summer is cause for a big celebration.
As with many traditions and holidays, food and drink are an essential part of Swedish midsummer, and no Swedish midsummer celebration is complete without a few key dishes.
Like a lot of traditional Scandinavian cooking, the traditional midsummer dishes are made to take advantage of seasonal produce. At this time of year, strawberries are in abundance, fresh chives sprout in the herb garden and small, new potatoes are picked straight from the earth, and the table shows it.
No matter where you are in the world, here are a few essential items to ensure that you too celebrate midsummer like a Swede.
A true Swedish midsummer table will have a spread of several types of pickled herring.If you like a more vinegary flavor try matjessill, or for one with a bit more bite, senapssill which is served in a mustard sauce. The herring is often be served with a side of sour cream and freshly chopped chives, which just so happens to go well with the boiled potatoes.
This time of year, it’s the "new potatoes; that reign. These younger potatoes are just ready to be pulled out of the ground and eaten, and the result is a smaller, sweeter potato. They are traditionally boiled and served with butter and dill.
Curing salmon is easier than you might think, as simple as rubbing the salmon with a salt and herb blend and letting it sit for a few days to cure. You will often find gravlax on the midsummer table, served with, yes, more dill.
No Swedish dining table is complete without a basket of knäckebröd, a dry, crispy bread traditionally made with rye flour. You’ll want to pair this with a slathering of butter and a few slices of cheese.
You can find a variety of different desserts on the Swedish midsummer table, but none is more iconic than a jordgubbstårta. To make the seasonal fruit sing, the cake is kept pretty simple; a sponge cake, whipped cream and as many strawberries as you can fit onto it. Even if you don’t want to serve a cake, strawberries are a must on the table, and you can keep things simple by just serving a large bowl of them.
While it’s often referred to as snaps, don’t confuse it with the sugary peppermint stuff. Snaps or aquavit is the Swedish flavored spirit, often made with traditional Swedish spices like caraway and anise. Today, there are even a few distilleries in the United States that make aquavit, including Old Ballard Liquor Co., House Spirits Distillery’s Krogstad Gamle Aquavit and North Shore Distillery. Around the Swedish midsummer table you may also encounter snapsvisor, a collection of drinking songs that seem to get more and more ridiculous the more glasses you have.
Now, find a table, pick some flowers to make yourself a midsummer wreath and get ready to stay up all night long celebrating!
Anna Brones is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, the founder of the print quarterly and runs Foodie Underground. Wherever she is in the world, she can often be found riding a bicycle in search of excellent coffee.
Top photo by Anna Brones. Second photo by Håkan Dahlström CC BY