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Summer Solstice, Swedish-Style
Celebrate the Summer Solstice like itís celebrated where the sun wonít set. In Sweden, this longest day of the year is as long as a day can be - 24 hours of sunshine - so Swedes traditionally break the monotony of endless daytime by having parties to celebrate the midnight sun. Just four main ingredients set the midsommar party stage - schnapps, akvavit, fish, and song.
As a term, schnaps refers to any strong alcoholic distilled spirit of German origin. The word itself is a noun from the Low German dialect; it means swallow. The traditional way to drink schnaps is one swallow at a time, no mixing needed. No muss, no fuss. Cocktail parties just donít get any easier than this.
Traditional German schnaps is made from tree fruits - apricot, apple, cherry, pear, and plum - but the Swedish schnapps is usually distilled from grain and seasoned with spices. The pungently flavored caraway seed is especially popular in Sweden.
Akvavit is a mainstay for the Swedish midsommar party. Distillation of this spicy elixir began in Scandinavia in the 15th century, when they seasoned it then as they do today, with herbs and spices. National preference seems to indicate the more caraway in the akvavit, the better.
Serve both schnaps and akvavit very well chilled in shot glasses. Instead of having one bar area where traffic might get bogged down, put a bottle of schnaps or akvavit in a wine bucket filled with ice and set it out of the main flow of traffic. Fix several such set-ups and place them strategically around the party area anywhere guests might congregate a while. Make sure there are fresh shot glasses handy.
Chill the shot glasses, too, for the most refreshing swallow. Try a frosty beer chaser to help the hard stuff go down easy. European schnaps is usually about 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). Akvavit is about the same.
In the United States, schnaps are flavored with tree fruits, spices, candy, and much more. The natural sugar content of many of these flavoring agents is too low to create fermentation (alcohol production) so sugar is added before distilling. Itís because of this added sugar that schnaps made in the US is a liqueur, not a distilled liquor. Proof can be as high as 100, or 50% ABV.
Turn to the farmers market for the freshest, most tender fruits and veggies to serve with your schnaps, akvavit, and beer. Strawberries are the piŤce de rťsistance on every summer Swedish smorgasbord so be sure to include some strawberries on your Summer Solstice menu. Include some whipped cream and a light, sponge-type cake and dessert makes itself.
Tender new potatoes served with horseradish sauce and caviar over a bed of smoked salmon or gravlax provide the perfect complement to pickled herring or sardines, dilled shrimp, and heart brown breads. Lutefisk, anyone?
With a gathering of well-fed friends and family, some icy cold beverages, and a night that never ends, is it any wonder song is the final element in the perfect Swedish midsommar?
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