In Sweden, Midsummer is celebrated on the Friday and Saturday right after (or during) the summer solstice. It's one of the most important holidays in the Swedish calendar, comparable to Christmas and New Year. It's basically an old heathen tradition that celebrates sun and fertility at a time when the sun doesn't really set and the beauty of a Swedish summer has finally come to full flower after a long, cold winter. It's party time. People head out to parks and raise a Midsummer pole that they've decorated with flowers and dance around it to traditional music. They wear crowns of flowers in their hair. And of course, they eat. (What celebration doesn't include food, right?)
|A friend let me share her picture of a typical Midsummer celebration.|
Traditionally, Swedish Midsummer meals consist of pickled herring (I must confess that this is not one of my favorites), new potatoes served with dill and butter or sour cream (yum), strawberries with cream (or better yet, the beautiful little wild strawberries called smultron). And with that of course, you are supposed to drink shots of snaps, while singing drinking songs. (I settled for some really good hard cider instead.)
For our Midsummer celebration and the last Swedish meal for Sweden week, I modified the traditional meal a bit. For one thing, I have never been able to eat pickled herring with joy and pleasure. I have choked down a piece or two from time to time to be polite, but that's the best I can do. I was able to get some lovely new potatoes from the farmer's market, along with some fragrant dill. Strawberries are over for the season here, but we do have raspberries and blueberries (the queen's berries) at the market, which had to suffice. And grilling a nice piece of meat is always popular for a summer meal.
But, I did want my family to try something I have loved since I first had it that says "party" to any person who has ever lived in Sweden: Toast Skagen. However, because I didn't have the right kind of roe for the dish (I was able to find some herring roe at IKEA and the right kind of shrimp*), I am hesitant to call this dish Toast Skagen (especially because that is such a fine and elegant dish and my toasts were more "rustic," but not necessarily in the gorgeous way). Instead, I choose to call them simply Skagen-inspired shrimp toasts. They are so easy to make, it's ridiculous. The only work involved is cleaning the shrimp. But they are so delicious, even my five-year old son loved them and ate every last bit.
- 1 500-gram bag of frozen northern shrimp, defrosted, peeled, and cleaned
- 4 teaspoons herring roe (or any other flavorful, light-colored roe you can find; don't use a black caviar, it will stain and taste too strong)
- 4 slices light bread, toasted
- 3-4 tablespoons mayonnaise
- four thin slices of lemon
- juice from half a lemon
- sprigs of dill for garnish
- Spread mayonnaise on the slices of toast.
- Sprinkle some lemon juice on the mayonnaise.
- Evenly divide the peeled and cleaned shrimp among the toasts.
- Cut each lemon slice through one side of the rind and all way through to the other side without cutting it completely in half. Twist each half of the lemon slice in opposite directions and garnish the shrimp.
- Spoon some herring roe onto the toasts.
- Add a sprig of dill on each toast.
* A word about shrimp: I don't like most shrimp. I do, however, like the little pink shrimp that you typically get in Scandinavia known as northern shrimp or prawns (their Latin name is Pandalus borealis, which I just had to share after spending quite some time trying to look them up). Compared with most shrimp that I've found here in the United States, they live up to their shrimply name, so cleaning them takes a long time and is fiddly. I still prefer to get them shell and head on, because their texture is weird when they come pre-cleaned. I've only been able to find them frozen at IKEA, which totally ruins any attempts at eating locally, but this is one of those cases where I definitely prefer an imported product over what I can find here.