After representing Canada at their Canadian Pavilion at the Trinken & Essen Symposium (Food and Wine Show) in Munich, I went for a little visit to Denmark to see family and enjoy fresh seafood. The month of May is when Spring is at its peak in Denmark. The weather was so warm, that we could sit outdoors all the time. It brought back wonderful memories of Midsummer Night’s celebrations when I was a child. So I decided to share this story with you. Enjoy.
In Denmark, Midsummer is celebrated on June 23rd and although it isn’t an official holiday, it’s a big celebration throughout the country and many Danish communities around the world. Old pagan rituals surrounding the solstice are still celebrated in most of Scandinavia today. Midsummer also celebrates the ensuing weeks of eighteen hours of daylight each day. Bonfires and the burning of a mock witch, stuffed with firecrackers and straw are a popular tradition during the festival. Although alleged witches were never burnt in the Middle Ages in Denmark as part of the Midsummer celebrations, the ritual was created to ward off evil and as an offering for a good growing season and bountiful harvest. On Midsummer there is lots of singing and plenty of food. In fact, Midsummer in Denmark is as popular as Christmas, which is only six months away!
Bonfires are a big part of the festivities and people flying into Denmark on a clear Midsummer evening have remarked about all the fires below lighting up the country like a series of dots. But you don’t have to fly to Denmark to enjoy a Midsummer celebration. Inviting friends and guests over to a bonfire can be easy and enjoyable. Just remember to tell them to bring either a salad, dessert or their favourite dish. If you don’t have chairs and blankets enough, tell them to bring those along too if you are celebrating on a beach. In Denmark guests often bring their own tents, since a Midsummer bonfire can last into the wee hours of the night, and as the embers fade everyone enjoys the sunrise and a morning dip before sleeping.
As a child we enjoyed all the outdoor activities and especially creating our own favourite treat called snobrrd (bread on a stick). The dough is rolled out like a long snake and then rolled around a wooden stick, where the (bark) has been peeled off. Sometimes we would secure a cooked hot dog on the tip of the stick and then roll the dough around the sausage. Then the trick was to slowly roast the hot dog over the embers of the bonfire. Of course, as children we didn’t always have the patience to let it cook completely, that’s why it’s a good thing to cook the hot dog first, or the whole thing would look like charcoal and taste like burnt bread. The dough for the bread on a stick is usually prepared in a pot on the beach.
Aside from bread on a stick, wrapping potatoes, carrots, parsnips and turnips in tinfoil is also popular and are placed in the embers to bake. Just add a little butter and they will be very tasty after about fifteen to twenty minutes. Another delicious treat is the grilled cheese sandwich. It takes patience to slowly turn and turn the sandwich until the cheese inside starts to melt.
My sister and her husband started their own tradition because they didn’t think it was enough just to have one single Midsummer night’s bonfire. As soon as the schools closed they would pack up their tents and camping gear and head to their own private paradise on the beach of a baron’s estate. My brother-in-law was a forester and he and the baron became good friends although the baron was a little surprised that my sister and her husband preferred camping to the drafty rooms in his mansion. They would often camp for the entire summer and the rest of the family would visit during the summer when vacations permitted. I have some of my fondest vacation memories from the Nyborg Camp, as it was called. Swimming, berry and mushroom picking, taming birds and playing with fish and frogs. There were always chores to do and we all had to pitch in. The most interesting thing was to come up with ideas on how to make a meal in one pot, since we were cooking over the bonfire and wanted to save on doing dishes.
One dish could be spaghetti and meat sauce, where you cooked the meat sauce first, then kept the meat warm in a container while cooking the pasta. Sometimes we would go fishing and if we caught a couple of codfish, we would clean the fish, cut it in portions and slowly poach it together with cubed potatoes, onions, carrots and green peas. This was my favourite seafood stew served in bowls with bread, and spread with a little mustard. Salads made from lettuce and potatoes with a variety of vegetables were also a big hit, together with hot dogs. As I write this article my sister, who is now widowed, continues the tradition and has packed up the tents for her summer sojourn.
Bread on a Stick
3 tbs. Butter
250 ml. Milk
2 tsp. Sugar
2 tbs. Dry active yeast
a pinch of salt
13 oz. Flour
Heat the milk (lukewarm) and dissolve the sugar in the milk. Add the dry yeast and let sit until it has “foamed”. Mix and knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Set aside to rise for half an hour. Knead the air out and divide the dough in egg-size-portions. Wrap in plastic wrap and give each person one at a time. Take a fresh stick (new willow tree branches are good). Peel off the outer layer. Take the dough and roll it between your palms until you get a thick rope-size. Roll it around the stick. Secure the dough at the top and then roll it around and then secure the bottom part. Now you’re ready to slowly bake your bread over the embers of the bonfire. Don’t place it in the flames, it will burn. Give it time – slowly baking is better than fast.
Tips: you can cut up ham, green bell peppers or cheese and mix in with the dough before attaching it to the stick. Cook the hot dogs before placing it on the stick. It must run all the way through the sausage. Then roll the dough on the outside.
All in one pot fish stew
4 fillets of cod or haddock, cut in three
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
4 cups, peeled and diced potatoes
2 cups frozen green peas
2 tbs. Sea salt
Fresh cut chives for garnish
water (just enough to cover the fish and vegetables)
bread & butter & mustard
Take a large pot add all ingredients and let come to a boil, then simmer for fifteen minutes.
Serve in large soup bowls.
Makes 4-6 servings