How is it midsummer weekend already? In my part of London we’ve only just started getting those balmy sunny evenings. They have been so few that we’ve savoured each one til the last trickle of light fades behind the trees and the Salvation Army tower visible from that special corner of the garden.
Of course there are parts of the world where the sunlight doesn’t fade til well after midnight and this weekend in particular celebrations are unlikely to do so too. In Scandinavia Midsummer is a celebration almost as large as Christmas. Planning starts well in advance and the wine and nibbles I enjoy in my peaceful garden wouldn’t quite cut it.
How Midsummer celebrations started
In agrarian times as early as the 1500s, Midsummer celebrations in Sweden welcomed summertime and the season of fertility. In some areas people dressed up in ferns as ‘green men’. They decorated their houses, tables and farm tools with foliage and danced around maypoles.
Midsummer is also thought to be a night of magic. Fortunes are told, water turns to wine and plants take on healing properties for just one night. One aspect that has remained consistent over the years is the idea of feasting on this day.
A typical Swedish Midsummer menu starts with herring
There is an old Swedish saying that if there is no herring on the table, there’s no party. I must admit that I’ve not been a fan of herring in its pickled form but at a recent Midsummer party I was pleasantly surprised by this Apple and Herring starter. It was light and very un-fishy. Simply mix chopped herring with thinly sliced apples and creme fraiche, season and add some dill. Easy.
It’s also rather nice in macaroni cheese or gratin dauphinois. Trust me. There’s not even a hint of fishiness!
Meatballs are essential on the Smorgasbord
In the early 18th century when Charles XII of Sweden was in exile in Istanbul he was so enamoured with meatballs that he took the recipe home. They were traditionally reserved for the upper classes and served with gravy, boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam but nowadays anything goes. My girls (who are as carnivorous as T Rexes) enjoyed them simply drizzled with yoghurt and a side order of tomatoes.
Let’s not forget the bread and pickled onions
Swedish crispbread is one of the wonders of the universe. I have tasted none better than Leksands which you can buy online (or stash a load next time you’re in Scandinavia like I did when I went to Copenhagen. Yes as much as they hate the Swedes the Danes sell my favourite crispbread in most supermarkets and at a fraction of the price you pay here)
And pickled onions. Let’s not forget those. I really don’t like the British pickled onion. Preserved whole in a most unappetising brown vinegar. Bleurgh!! It simply doesn’t appeal. Take a red onion, blanch it in boiling water and then add lemon juice however and you have a completely different bowl of merriment for merrymaking.