Celebrate the Summer Solstice

Gourmet Girl - June 19, 2013

Midsummer's Eve is celebrated around the world with feasts, bonfires, rituals and more

"Swedish Strawberries and Cream" Photo: Pixbaby Member Tingeling

The Summer Solstice is upon us, the longest day of the year when the sun is closest to the earth. Around the world, this midsummer holiday is celebrated with lavish feasts, bonfires, rituals and traditions.

The midsummer moon was once called the Honey Moon, named for mead made from fermented honey that revelers drank in wedding ceremonies held on the summer solstice. In fact, our tradition of June weddings originated in the Druid celebration of the solstice as the wedding of heaven and earth.

The Summer Solstice was considered a powerful time for rituals. In Norway, for example, a young maiden seeking a suitor put flowers beneath her pillow hoping to dream of her future husband. And fairies and magic have been linked to Midsummer's Eve in everything from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Eve" to bonfires that burned through the night to keep mischievous fairies away. And, according to folklore, herbs harvested on the Summer Solstice had a stronger magical potency.

The Celtic Pagans had a special beverage for Midsummer's Eve. Queimada, made with orujo, a distilled wine blended with herbs, was prepared and savored at night, outdoors, in a sacred circle as part of a fire festival to both honor the past and greet what is yet to come.

In Sweden, friends and family gather on the Summer Solstice to sing and dance around the Midsummer Pole, which is decorated with flowers. Celebrations typically include a herring-lunch, featuring herring pickled in a vinegar or mustard sauce; brown bread or crispbread; a dill shrimp salad known as Skagen; thin slices of strong cheese, new potatoes with dill, sour cream, egg and chives; and fresh strawberries just ready for harvesting, served with sweetened whipped cream. It wouldn't be Midsummer in Sweden without schnapps and aquavit, distilled liquor or red wine flavored with caraway and other spices. The feasting continues with a midsummer dinner barbecue of grilled meat along with Swedish meatballs, salmon, roast beef, cheese pie and more schnapps.

Many celebrations of the Summer Solstice feature traditional colors and symbols associated with Midsummer, including gold, yellow, the sun, oak trees and sunflowers. Chefs may create a menu that features foods that are yellow and lemony in flavor,

To celebrate the Summer Solstice, here's a menu for four that features foods from Sweden traditionally prepared and eaten on this day.

Skagen (Dill Shrimp Salad)

1 1/4 pounds shrimp, with shells on
1 lemon, quartered
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped dill
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Salt and pepper

Boil shrimp and lemon quarters in large pot until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Drain, cool, devein and peel shrimp. Cut shrimp into half-inch pieces.

Whisk mayo, mustard and lemon juice in a large bowl, then whisk in chives and dill. Add shrimp and gently toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Swedish New Potatoes

1.5 pounds new potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cover new potatoes with cold water and salt in a large pot Boil for 8 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Drain and toss potatoes in a large bowl with vinegar. Set aside for five minutes then stir in parsley, chives and scallions. Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Midsummer Strawberries & Cream (Serves 4)

4 cups strawberries
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar

Using an electric beater beat heavy cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Sprinkle on confectioner's sugar and beat until creamy with stiff peak. Serve atop the strawberries.