I have serious Midsummer envy. Or more correctly, I have Midsommar envy. I don't know if it stems from all the Scandinavian crime fiction I've been devouring over the past few years (certainly that must have something to do with the Swedish spirit Aquavit having taken up shelf space in my home bar), or if it's my love of midcentury Scandi style, but somehow Sweden is having a moment.
But back to the subject at hand. Midsummer/Midsommar is what the Swedes (and many others) call their celebration of the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (June 21st). In Northern Europe, Midsummer is a major celebration, linked to the Christian Feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24), despite predating Christianity. This festival is also known as Litha to Neopagans, but the term solstice comes from the way that the sun appears to stand still at this time of year. In Europe, this festival is marked by maypoles, bonfires and singing. It is the true start of summer, when children end school and people prepare to leave on holiday. It is generally held on June 21st or June 24th.
The Man, who is half Norwegian, is the unfortunate recipient of my Scandiphilia. Despite his heritage, he didn't exactly grow up in a home filled with herring and stories about trolls. He's from South Jersey. When we got engaged (and I still thought I might hyphenate my last name) I urged him to return the K to the beginning of his last name which starts with N--the silent K having dropped off the boat on his great-grandparents' voyage to the United States. He laughed me off, saying I just wanted him to be more ethnic than he actually was. This accusation was accurate. Midsummer is celebrated widely in Poland, from whence much of my ancestry hails (but let's face it, my Polish ancestors--the Jews--were not exactly sun worshippers).
So, I don't come by observance of Midsummer honestly, but I feel like this festival could easily be added to our roster of excuses to party. I guess our local Strawberry Festival is sort of a stand in for this unofficial start to summer, but Midsummer just seems more ancient and festive. Plus, there's smoked fish.
In the United States, there is no unified celebration of this long summer day. The observance of Midsummer depends greatly on the regional immigrant culture. For example, Swedish Midsummer celebrations are held in areas with large Swedish or Scandinavian populations. The Swedish Consulate also cosponsors a large Midsummer Festival in Battery Park (in Manhattan).
Anyway, I sort of wish this was more of a thing in the States. Here in Western New York, I feel a kinship with the Scandinavians (and not just because of all the crime fiction I read). We too have a long winter, one that drags on until you think you can't bear it anymore, and then it snows again. The joy that comes with the true arrival of summer is hard to put into words. The only way to express it is to GO OUTSIDE.
And maybe drink some rhubarb liqueur.
So, a few weeks ago The Man and I went to see A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor was talking about rhubarb wine. The Man's ears pricked up (as they often due at any mention of rhubarb and/or booze). We went home and did some research, but honestly it seems like a lot of work. So we went our usual riff-on-limoncello route. The results, I'm happy to say, were delicious.
The recipe follows, along with pictures. We think, were we to do it again (and why wouldn't we?), we would only use the red part of the stalks. Our rhubarb wasn't super red to begin with, but we were hoping for a pinker result.
750 ml grain alcohol/neutral spirit*
375 grams of sugar
750 ml water
4-5 cups chopped rhubarb
Peel of one orange (taking care to avoid the white pith)
Combine the chopped rhubarb, orange peel, and the alcohol in a large jar (or something airtight), let sit for at least two weeks (shaking occasionally).
After its resting time, strain the alcohol using a coffee filter and discard the fruit. Make a simple syrup, boiling the water and adding the sugar until dissolved. Once the syrup cools, combine with the rhubarb-infused alcohol. Pour into bottles or jars and keep chilled.
Serve in shot glasses, add to seltzer over ice, or drizzle over strawberry shortcake. Enjoy!
*There are those who will want to use vodka. That's between them and their god. I vote with the Italians and use grain alcohol.
Here's my charge for the Summer Solstice: Invite some friends over for potluck, light a fire in the fire pit, roast marshmallows, drink excessively (if that's your jam), and Dance Dance Dance!