The way time seemed to move these past few months on pandemic-pause, the only indication that we weren’t reliving the same day over and over was the fact that the days kept getting longer. In the Before Times, the approach of the summer solstice would mean it would soon be time for our annual Scandinavian Midsommar picnic, which for many years kicked off our summer picnic season. Time was that upwards of 100 people would crowd around the old tree in Mineral Springs to eat smörgåstårta (a savory sandwich cake), gravlax, herring, meatballs, and tubes of Abba fish roe; weave wildflowers into floral crowns; and down shots of aquavit between rousing choruses of “Helan Går” and other Svenska snapsvisor.
While we knew that a traditional Midsommar throwdown wasn’t realistic this year, we couldn’t bear the idea of skipping it altogether. So, we decided to do a modified version for this social-distancing moment. Together with our frequent co-conspirators, Clare and Jonas (one of many real-live Swedes who regularly participate in these Scando-celebrations and ensure that no one can accuse us of crass cultural appropriation) and friends Susanne and Mary, we gathered in Riverside Park, on what was almost the longest day of the year, for a Mini-Midsommar.
To ensure proper distance, we set up individual picnic blankets for each with a table in the middle to hold the food. I will point out that if we were to be following social distancing to the letter, each of us would have brought our own food, drink, and supplies and just sat near one another. But since we all love cooking and sharing, we prepared individual servings for everyone. (Dr. Fauci may not have approved, but Melissa Clark recommended the same approach for a responsible backyard cookout.)
We made mini-smörgåstårta (which were, frankly, tastier than the full size), rhubarb aquavit, fruit, and cheese. Clare and Jonas brought individual servings of homemade gravlax, cinnamon buns, perfectly sweet fruit and cream in jars, and Susanne brought wee spinach quiches (GF, as it happened), pickled beets with yogurt, and flaky little lemon tarts that were more-tart-than-sweet and more-tiny-pie-than-tart.
We composed little cheese boards and plated the assorted foods for each party. We poured and passed around glasses of aquavit, sweetened with a little juice from macerated strawberries.
We forgot to sing “Helan Går,” but Clare sang a beautiful rendition of “Summertime” as the sun set. And we made at least one flower crown.
Putting this picnic together drove home the inherent oxymoron that is socially-distanced socializing. But after months of hiding out in our apartments, long after the novelty of Zoom cocktail hour had faded, this felt like a reasonably calculated risk. We tried our best to stay six feet apart, wore masks until we ate, kept the hand-sanitizer close, and lingered long into the dying light of the evening.