A little over two years ago, we found ourselves on the island of Gotland off the coast of Sweden. It was June 24th. We had enjoyed a wonderful hike along the seacoast, beachcombing. And then we visited the main town, Visby.
Visby was a lovely place, narrow streets of neat stucco houses painted in pastel colors. Brightly colored flowers flourished in window boxes and tiny patch gardens. But the odd thing about Visby was the silence. There were no people walking in town, no children playing in the yards, no laundry flapping in the breeze. All the doors were shut tight. I was beginning to think that Visby was a museum the size of a town. Lovely, but sterile.
As we came to the edge of town, there was the ruins of an old church and a graveyard. And at last, some humans, walking their dogs. But so few...they couldn't possibly be inhabitants. We walked more, into a park with wide expanses of grass and large ancient trees. And an odd sound: the voice of a man, magnified and echoing. Followed by music...and then singing, surely the singing of children.
Over the crest of a hill and then we saw them: the entire population of Visby, lounging on blankets arranged around a towering maypole decorated with flowers. The adult Swedes were eating picnic lunches; the children, many wearing wreaths of fresh flowers, were encircling the maypole, dancing, singing, and gesturing to the melodies--think the Swedish version of the Hokey-Pokey. This was no ghost town!
The delight of witnessing Midsommer--one of the most important festival days in Scandinavian culture--made such an impression on my family, that we've celebrated Midsommer since then. No Maypole for us--I have teenaged sons, after all--but a traditional Swedish picnic meal. New potatoes, scrubbed and sauteed in a pan, seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh dill or parsley. Cucumbers--English seedless are best--thinly sliced and prepared with a simple dressing. Sometimes I make a quick brine with water, sugar, salt, and vinegar, accented with dill; other times, I toss the cukes with a spoonful of olive oil, white vinegar, salt and pepper, and chopped dill.
And then there's the salmon. So simple. On a hot day, this prep doesn't overheat the kitchen, and the poaching helps the fish stay moist.
Swedish Poached Salmon
adapted from the Swedish tourism website, www.sweden.se
1 1/2 to 2 lbs fresh salmon filet, wild caught is best
1 quart water
1/2 c white vinegar
2 Tbs sea salt
5 whole allspice
2 bay leaves
1 carrot, chopped
3-4 stalks of chives, fresh
3-4 stalks of dill, fresh
Combine all poaching liquid ingredients in a shallow saucepan (large enough to hold salmon). Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, gently place the salmon into the liquid, and cover. Let rest until the liquid cools; you can test the internal temperature of the fish after about 20 minutes (it should read 145F). Gently remove the fish from the liquid and peel off the skin. Serve with new potatoes or potato salad, cucumber salad, and tartar sauce or Swedish mustard. Leftovers keep well.
A lovely dessert with this is Saffranspannkaka--a saffron-flavored cake made with rice and almonds, and served with fresh seasonal fruit and a dab of whipped cream. But some frozen delights from IKEA will also work.