How To Make The Perfect Swedish Midsommar Smörgåsbord

While director Ari Aster did his best to make the Swedish celebration of Midsommar look, well, horrific, it's actually a pretty sweet solstice celebration that much of Northern Europe celebrates each year. They indulge in plenty of drinking and eating, and it's quite an impressive spread. Even Ikea gets in on the action. 

Swedes are known for their smörgåsbords (or just bords for short), which are basically less formal than a standard buffet but more expansive than a grazing board. At the midsummer celebration, you might find a mix of cooked dishes, cheeses, charcuterie, nuts, and fruits, but there are a few items that are staples like pickled herring and gravlax, new potatoes, and a strawberry sponge cake dessert. So if you're planning to celebrate the summer solstice and want to give a fun nod to an ancient tradition, try creating your own Swedish-inspired Midsommar smörgåsbord.

Pickled fish for days

For your board, you're going to need fish — a lot of it. The two main varieties you'll find at the Swedish Midsommar table are salmon and herring. When it comes to salmon, gravlax is the typical preparation method — it's simply salmon cured with salt and sugar. You can make it yourself and even find it in some specialty grocery stores, but if you're pressed for time or can't find it at the market, you can get away with some smoked salmon slices instead. Serve with fresh dill and onions. Herring is the other major player here, but it's usually served pickled. You can find this at Eastern European markets, or try to make your own, but all told, it's easier, and usually tastier to go store-bought. 

On the side, you'll want to include some hard cheeses that can stay out of the fridge for a while. Västerbotten is a traditional Swiss hard cheese, but you could also go with gouda, Parmesan, and Gruyere. Almost any hard cheese will do. One side dish you can't skip is new potatoes and dill. Just take some of those golden baby potatoes, boil until tender, then serve with salt, dill, and sour cream. Finally, when it comes to something sweet, the traditional dessert is simple — sponge cake with whipped vanilla cream and topped with fresh strawberries. 

Don't forget the aquavit

With all of that food and salted fish, you'll need something to wash it down. The Swedes tend to prefer schnapps, which are just spirits distilled from potatoes and grain, similar to vodka, but they are typically flavored with herbs and botanicals. One of the most popular drinks is a spirit known as aquavit or akvavit, which is an herbaceous, caraway-forward, and licoricey liquor, much like a less syrupy Jaegermeister. It's also available in other flavors such as honey, elderflower, and black currant. 

Aquavit is usually served in a shot or port-style glassware. To go the extra mile, chill the glasses in the freezer before pouring in the spirit. For those who don't like the botanical and herbaceous spirit in its purest form, you can mix it into a cocktail with cranberry juice or whatever you prefer. If you prefer not to imbibe in the traditional boozy beverage, elderflower cordial would make for a nice alcohol-free substitute.