My friend Mike O'Bryant, the executive director of the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation, keeps me up to date on the Scandinavian happenings in the Portland area. Being of Norwegian descent, I am particularly interested in these cultural events.
His recent alert about the Midsummer Festival being held at Oaks Park this Saturday brought to mind the Midsummer adventure my older brother Doug and I had when we visited Norway in June 1978. We were visiting relatives of our grandfather Clarence 'Iver' Iverson and met up with our younger brother Tom who was on an exchange program in Norway. I recall being aboard a ferry crossing the Arctic Circle during the Midsummer Festival. It is oddly eerie to be in sunlight for 24 hours straight.
Midsummer festivals celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. The traditions stem from pagan times and illustrate the defeat of darkness by the powers of the sun god. Remember that Scandinavian countries are very far north - they endure days of darkness during the long cold winter. Who wouldn't want to celebrate the return of daylight?
The solstice is traditionally celebrated on June 21, though celebrations can occur from the 20th through the 26th - probably depending on when the weekend falls. Bonfires and Maypoles are usually part of the fun as well as dancing, singing and of course, good holiday food, such as potatoes with herring or smoked fish, fresh fruit and probably some schnapps and beer for the adults.
I found Norwegian cuisine to be healthy and delicious. We ate from smörgåsbords loaded with delicious cheeses, smoked fish, vegetables and breads. Some of my favorite foods were spit-roasted kylling (chicken) that we purchased from a stand at the beach and reke (shrimp) served with a tasty roumalode sauce.
Norway is one of the most beautiful countries I've visited; it has an ancient and magical appearance. The rocky crags of the Scandinanvian Mountains jut straight up from the water's edge to disappear in the clouds high above. Rocky islands are scattered off the coastline, as if hurled by giants at lindworms (monstrous sea serpents). The quiet, deep blue fjords are majestic against lush green walls.
It's a land rich in folklore, too. Grandpa Iver told the best stories about Vikings, mermaids and trolls, which were said to live in the mountains near the family homestead. He loved to dance and twirled us grandchildren around and around to Norwegian ditties he may have made up just for the occasion. We didn't know the songs; it was just fun to hear him sing.
You don't have to be Scandinavian to join in on the fun of this weekend's festival. Mike and I both encourage all to come share the Scandinavian culture. There will be music and other entertainment, dancing, games, Nordic food, crafts and items to purchase from Scandinavian vendors plus a beer garden. The event begins at 11 a.m., the Maypole will be raised at 1 p.m., and from 6 to 9 p.m. you can dance to the music of Fossegrimen.
And what is a fossegrimen? Besides the name of the band that will play for the dancing, a fossegrimen is also a Scandinavian mythological creature that is an ugly but magnificient musician. He plays the fiddle day and night and never comes out from his home under a waterfall. Legend has it that you could pay the fossegrimen with a fine meal to teach you to play as a maestro,0 too. He especially liked a good plump joint of meat. If, however, the student offered an inadequate piece of meat, the fossegrimen would teach the student how to tune his fiddle instead of play it.
Don't miss out on this once-a-year celebration. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children age six through 12. A family pass for two adults and two children is available for $15. Oaks Park is located at 7805 S.E. Oaks Park Way in Portland.
Doug and I took up the habit of having coffee and pastry in the late afternoon while touring Norway. The coffee was strong and the pastries flaky and delicious. One of our favorites was bløtkake, a cake with strawberries and cream, the recipe for which I share with you today. Made with Oregon berries, I don't think you could find a tastier dessert to serve at Midsummer Night!
To learn more about the Midsummer Festival visit www.scanheritage.org or call 503-977-0275.
Bon sans - Spise noe fantastisk!
(That's Norwegian for Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!)
Norwegian Cream Cake
Makes 1 9-inch round cake
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pint basket of strawberries
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Optional teaspoon of Cointreau or other fruit flavored liqueur
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Line the bottoms of 1 9-inch round spring form pan with parchment paper and coat with either butter or cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer until frothy. Raise the speed on your mixer to high, and add the sugar gradually, beating until thick and lemon-colored.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and slowly add the flour to the beaten eggs, mixing until just blended. Blend in the vanilla.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly golden. Check with the toothpick (the center of the cake should bounce back when touched). Remove the cake from its pan and cool on a wire rack.
While the cake cools, hull and slice half the berries, place them in a small bowl and toss with the teaspoon of sugar and Cointreau, if using. Whip the cream with the vanilla and powdered sugar until stiff and spreadable.
To assemble the cake: Once cooled, carefully cut cake in half horizontally with a serrated blade. Spread the bottom layer with the juicy berries and then spread about a third of the whipped cream over the strawberries. Place the other cake half on top and cover the entire cake with whipped cream. Decorate with more strawberries, mint leaves, flags, etc.
Cook's note: If time permits assemble the cake layers either the night before or morning of the day it will be served. This allows the strawberry juices to soak into the cake and for the layers to meld together. Hold off on frosting the cake with whipped cream until just before serving.
Adapted from Scandinavian Feasts by Beatrice Ojakangas