ColumnYour guide to throwing your own Swedish Midsummer celebration.
This week marks the summer solstice, and if there’s any place that knows how to celebrate this time of year, it’s Sweden. Its northern latitude makes the winters dark and long and the summers light and short, which means there’s plenty of reason to celebrate the official start to the summer season which kicks off at midsommar.
Midsommar was originally celebrated on June 24, but in 1953 was moved to the nearest Saturday – you can’t have a big celebration in the middle of the week after all. The real celebration is the Friday night before, on Midsommarafton – Midsummer’s Eve – the time when you gather your friends and families, cover long tables in an array of traditional food, put up a midsummer pole and sing songs as you drink Aquavit, or snaps as the Swedes call it.
I get nostalgic around this time, pining after the land where the sun barely sets and the party thrown in celebration of the season continues into the wee hours of the morning. It’s a day of food, friends and tradition.
Sweden might be small when it comes to population, but in terms of food and culture, the country carries some weight, and with the Scandinavian takeover in the culinary world, midsummer and its traditions has made its way across the Atlantic, which for the rest of us, means the chance to drink artisanal Aquavit without the plane ride.
Here’s the quick guide to the essentials for throwing your own midsummer celebration.
A standard in Scandinavian liquor cabinets, Aquavit is less of a tradition here on the other side of the Atlantic, but two artisanal distilleries are making a name for themselves with classic renditions: North Shore Distillery in Chicago, Illinois and House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon.
Want to truly go underground? Make your own. You can turn practically anything into a good snaps, you just need flavorful herbs and spices, or even berries – anything from dill to ginger to raspberries – and a bottle of vodka. Let store in a cool, dark place for at least a few days, and taste to gauge flavor. To increase the taste, you can also add in a couple pinches of sugar.
Chive and Lemon Snaps (adapted from GP.se)
- 10 minutes + 1 week
- 750 ml bottle of vodka
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 4 stalks of chives
- lemon zest of 1 lemon
Combine all ingredients in bottles and let stand in cool, dark place for at least 1 week. Shake bottle every few days. When ready, strain vodka as chives lose their color if left in too long.
To complete the drinking process, you’ll also need a good snapsvisa or two, songs sung specifically in conjunction with the drinking of aquavit. Start with the classic Helan Går.
Midsommar food is easy and it all starts with a good base of pickled herring, salmon and potatoes with dill. In New York, the go-to spot for pickled herring is Russ & Daughters, but if you’re located on one of the coasts, you can often find it at local seafood markets, or even make your own.
To top off the fish, serve up a classic dill mustard sauce, taken from my kitchen staple, Vår Kokbok:
- 3 tablespoons mustard
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- pinch salt
- pinch pepper
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1/2 cup cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped dill
Mix mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and vinegar in a bowl. Add oil in a slow and steady stream, whisking quickly the entire time. If oil is added too quickly in the beginning, it will separate from the rest of the sauce. Once oil has been added and sauce has been mixed, whisk in dill just before serving. Serve over fish and potatoes.
If you’re lucky enough to live in New York, you might take inspiration from Sockerbit, a store devoted to serving up the best of lösgodis, Sweden’s popular bulk candy; no midsummer is complete without a few bowls of colorful candy carefully placed around the room. Other dessert necessities are strawberries, whipped cream and maybe even a good chocolate cake. I like to make a big batch of chokladbollar (pictured at the top) – easy to make, delicious and totally unhealthy.
- 1 stick of butter
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2-3 tablespoons water
- 2.5 cups oats
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- Optional: 1 tablespoon ground coffee
Cream together butter and sugar. Mix in cocoa, vanilla, water and oats (if you’re adding in coffee, mix in as well). Form mixture into small balls, and roll in coconut to cover them. Refrigerate until serving.
Find yourself a rustic picnic table, cover it in wildflowers and let the party begin. Glad midsommar!
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.
Images: Anna Brones