How to create a midsummer picnic – the easy way
Midsummer occurs at exactly the same time as the summer solstice. It’s a wonderful time of year where we have almost round-the-clock daylight and try to tap into as much of it as we can, preparing ourselves for the long dark winter days ahead.
In Sweden, ‘midsommar’ sort of means picnics. It also means midsummer maypoles, aquavit, dancing, fun and frolics, and maybe a sing-song or two. It means flowers in your hair, and it definitely means local food eating outdoors with friends and family.
If you want to try your hand at a typically Scandi midsummer picnic, here’s our easy guide to doing it yourself. And don’t worry if you think you’ll have problems getting some of the trickier ingredients – we’ve suggested alternatives throughout.
What to make and pack
The emphasis is on seasonality and authentic produce.
It’s just not Scandi unless there’s herring, so don’t be squeamish and give it a try. At midsummer, we enjoy Matjes herring in particular. A lot more delicate than the usual pickled herring, it goes very well with the season’s new potatoes.
We usually have at least two types of herring, so try one with Swedish mustard dressing – ABBA’s Senaps Sill is great.
Some UK supermarkets do have Scandi brands of pickled herring, so go for those if you can as they have a sweeter brine. Matjes herring is available online from ScandiKitchen.co.uk and you can also get it at Ocado. Rollmop herring is easy to find, but it is rather sourer than what we have in Scandinavia, and we have it in chunks rather than rolled lengths – avoid unless there’s nothing else.
A must-have. Get really good quality new potatoes, boil and cool down to bring along to the picnic. Some people like them very plain, some like them tossed in dill. We prefer them in a light dill dressing as follows:
Cook the potatoes as described above. You can use slightly warm potatoes for this, or cooled ones straight out of the fridge. The most important part is to dress them just before serving.
Prepare the dressing:
• 75ml sunflower oil or other light oil
• 25ml white wine vinegar
• 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp caster sugar
• 1 medium shallot, very finely chopped
• 1 bunch of dill, finely chopped
• Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk the liquids, mustard and sugar until the sugar has dissolved, then fold in the chopped shallot and dill. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and make sure each potato is coated.
Swedish sour cream. There’s no direct British equivalent (due to the fat content), but if you mix half natural yoghurt to half crème fraîche, you’ll get something very close. Make a small batch so you have enough to pour over the potatoes and Matjes herring as a dip or dressing. Add a handful of finely chopped chives to the mixture.
We do sell Gräddfil at ScandiKitchen if you want to get hold of the real thing.
This makes an appearance at every festive season. It’s delicious and simple to make, but you can easily buy our own from ScandiKitchen or Ocado.
To make it yourself, drain a jar of Scandi pickled beetroot and lightly chop them. Mix with one chopped tart apple. Add enough crème fraîche and mayonnaise to create a light pink hue, then season with salt, pepper, a dash of balsamic and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice if needed. Leave to set.
If you use British pickled beetroot, you may need to add sugar for a more authentically sweeter taste.
Of course. Did you think we could have a picnic with no meatballs?
Make or buy. If you decide to make, do so a day in advance, as it takes quite a while to make a full batch. If you buy, we highly recommend either Per i Viken or Mamma Scans. Either way, eat them cold.
We love salmon, but it can be a bit difficult to sit and eat on a picnic. We suggest making a cured salmon salad with new potatoes. You can omit the potatoes if you don’t want to double up on spuds for your picnic.
300g cooked, cooled new potatoes, halved
200g cured salmon (or smoked salmon, if you prefer)
100g green beans, blanched, cut into 3-4 cm pieces
150g green asparagus, blanched, cooled, cut into 3-4 cm pieces
100g green peas, blanched, cooled
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
A handful of crunchy green leaves (from iceberg to frisée – whatever you prefer)
1/3 cucumber, cubed
1 tbsp chopped chives
Sprigs of dill to decorate
Fold together and dress lightly with gravlax sauce, which is a dill and mustard dressing. We stock it, as do some supermarkets.
Nobody will eat it, but it’s pretty and looks like you’ve make a massive effort. Optional, of course.
If you want to show off, make a Väststerbottenpaj. It’s a cheese quiche made with Västerbotten and full-fat cream. The dressing for the quiche is easy: a small jar of red lumpfish roe mixed with 100ml of crème fraîche. Or just buy a cheese quiche and smile sweetly.
This bit is important. You have to have crispbread, of course. Go for Leksands or Pyramid, both are very nice. Crusty bread is also common – get a baguette or some seeded rolls, whatever you fancy. Just don’t forget the butter.
Midsummer is all about the humble strawberry, and you’ll need to incorporate strawberries into your picnic somehow. If you’re having it in your garden, you could make a jordgubbstårta – a strawberry layer cake – but that would be hard to bring along to a picnic. Instead, we suggest a few punnets of strawberries with a bit of cream and you’re done. If you want to bake, make a delicious Swedish sticky chocolate cake called a kladdkaka the day before. Chill it and slice before you leave (it’s slightly under-baked and sticky, so you can only cut it while cold).
Serve with the cream and strawberries.
Aquavit, cider and beers. You can add wine or champagne, but be careful of mixing aquavit and wine. We recommend a bottle of Skåne aquavit or Hallands Fläder, both are nice and summery. Only ever drink very cold, and as shots. For beers, go for Tuborg or Pistonhead. Rekordelig or Kopperberg are good cider options and probably the easiest thing on your shopping list to obtain.
If you can’t get aquavit, try flavouring a bottle of vodka. Google “make your own Swedish aquavit” for ideas.
Once you crack open the aquavit, the desire to sing will become evident. Prepare some good old Swedish ‘snapsvisor’, aka drinking songs. If you don’t speak Swedish, just pretend to be the Swedish Chef from The Muppets for a few minutes. More aquavit helps with that. Please be aware that after two shots of the strong stuff, you are likely to be fluent in Swedish, just by default.
Midsummer maypole etiquette
If there is a maypole, you need to dance around it. Not on your own, but with other people. Let them take the lead if you are unsure (and you will be unsure, so let them take the lead). If you find yourself pretending to be a little frog, this is quite normal. More aquavit helps with that.
Well, there’s not a dress code as such (although UK midsummer celebrations probably should include an anorak and umbrella). Women tend to wear white clothing, with wild flowers in their hair. This is of course optional, especially when it comes to keeping tidy during a picnic, although the floral hair arrangements can get quite competitive. Men tend to wear stuff that makes them look even more Swedish. Like tight trousers, maybe even yellow ones. We don’t really advise either, if we’re honest.
And that’s it. Just have a lovely day whatever you do. Glad Midsommar!