Dinner of the Cold Maidens —

Or, if you prefer, the Dinner of the Smorrebrod Virgins.

No, not the outdoor temperature, nor yet the status or amorous nature of the participants. Smorrebrod Virgins are young women, mostly unmarried (hence the name), who make the delectable open-face Danish sandwiches that are as glorious to photograph as to eat. The other name for such women, Cold Maidens, is because the sandwiches they turn out are generally eaten cold.

Swedish smorgasbord is reasonably well known in the US, even if it’s rarely eaten outside of Swedish communities, say, in the Midwest. But because Danes, being sensible people, mostly stayed in Denmark (at least once the impetuous Vikings had departed),  the Danish specialty of smorrebrod is not nearly so well known here.

Smorrebrod sandwiches are small slices of bread lavishly smeared with butter,  and topped with any of a vast array of tasty tidbits. I was initiated into the process of making them at least 50 years ago by a Danish friend who periodically got homesick. She trained me in the art so that we two could stand in for professional Smorrebrod Virgins to produce a Danish feast for our All-American husbands.

Alas, these days our Danish-and-American friends are far away in Maine. Our smorrebrod sandwich feasts are fewer and farther between. That’s why recently, when South African friends here in Northampton who love adventurous cooking and eating were casting about for something a little bit different, I inveigled the women into undertaking a gig as Smorrebrod Virgins. While the husbands chatted over wine in the living room, the women gathered in our tiny kitchen. I had done all the shopping and prep work and assembling of garnishes.

The butter was soft, spreaders at the ready. I demo’d the first of our six varieties, and we were off. My maidens proved to be naturals. One after the other, with lightning speed, out came the platters. The order of service is set by tradition, with fish beginning the feast. First came the herring with hard-boiled eggs:

Smorrebrod: herring and eggaccompanied by tiny shrimp:

Smorrebrod, Tiny Shrimp Next came ham with vegetable-mayonnaise salad:

Smorrebrod: ham with vegetable salad

and rare roast beef with frizzled onions:

Smorrebrod: rare roast beef, frizzled onions

I even attempted, with much trepidation, my friend’s adaptation of traditional Danish liverpaste, with sauteed mushrooms. It proved to be a hit:

Smorrebrod: liverpaste with mushrooms

Last of all traditionally comes the cheese, in this case Havarti, garnished with radishes.

Smorrebrod, Havarti with radishes

This was a relatively modest dinner. We only had six varieties out of  infinite possibilities. Dessert was simple. We finished off with local strawberries and whipped cream.

Oh, I didn’t mention yet, did I, what is unfailingly drunk with smorrebrod. Aquavit, an eau-de-vie most often flavored with caraway, served by the thimbleful in pretty glasses, is chased with Carlsberg beer. The beer is fine, but you have to watch out for the aquavit,  it’s a killer — 

There’s a nice custom that goes along with a smorrebrod feast. Anyone at any time can elevate his or her aquavit glass, catch the eye of another diner, say Skoal; and without disengaging glances, both down their aquavits in one long gulp. There’s only one exception to this pleasant practice. Can you guess who is the one person who cannot be Skoaled?

Think about it — and think about what kind of sandwiches you would choose to make for your own smorrebrod feast — Google will start you off nicely, but really, the sky, and your imagination, is the limit!


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21 Responses to Dinner of the Cold Maidens —

  1. Love the title, not to mention the array of tasty sandwiches. They sound, however, like a lot of work!?


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Yes and no, Mary.
      A lot of thinking and planning, a lot of shopping, a lot of somewhat finicky garnish prep.
      But if you have willing handmaidens, the actual doing goes quickly, and then your whole meal is ready, just waiting to be served. Sort of a co-op meal!


  2. Prunella Fiddian-Green says:

    I’m so honored!!!!! Thank you for mentioning your maidens!! It was a treat for all time. Pru


  3. The one who cannot be skoaled is the first person to do the toast, because, alas, their glass is empty. This sounds like delightful fun! We must give this a whirl sometime!


  4. Lucid Gypsy says:

    It’s really attractive food, I’d struggle with a veggies version. Your evening sounds great fun, is the virgin the one that can’t be skoaled?


    • Touch2Touch says:

      There’s egg and tomato — what else? Scrambled eggs, if you do eggs, with or without mushrooms. And whatever else you could make up —
      No, it’s not the virgin, I mean — who could tell? There might be lots. Or none.


  5. Love this post! My family has Scandinavian roots and we know this fare; and those aquavit toasts! I go mad for Ski-queen gjetost on dark rye bread 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      If memory serves me, long ago I tried gjetost cheese. It was darkish brown, yes? and tasted unlike anything I’d ever had. A true taste of childhood — but not my childhood!
      I’m glad the post awakened memories of your youth for you! I’m getting hungry all over again thinking about the dinner.


  6. 2e0mca says:

    Havarti with Radishes looks great to me but not sure how I sell that one to our son 😉 Fascinating colors and ideas 🙂


  7. I’d missed this post! Lovely-looking smorrebröd. I can relate to all of the ingredients … only different combinations. In Sweden, there’s something that’s more common than smorgasbord: smorgas cake. That’s sort of «all-in-one» http://wp.me/p49mjc-fV

    Akvavit can be lethal … imagine if someone keeps «skoaling» all throughout the dinner …. one would fall under the table ! 😉


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Woo-eee! That smorgastarta looks DELICIOUS! I might even give it a try.
      And skip the near-lethal akvavit — I think I wouldn’t even fall under the table, I sort of would just slide limply underneath. (But it does taste mighty good, if fiery, going down. 😉


      • Yes, it does, but isn’t it funny how we, humans, can acquire a taste for something like that?! Imagine giving red wine or akvavit to a little baby … compared to sugar 🙂

        Smorgastarta IS delicious — especially when it’s made the night before, so that the bread has really sucked in all the goodies.. I’ll definitely have some, when I go back in August for a visit.


  8. What a lovely tradition, and I appreciate the the photo illustrations. We had an English tea and served egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches, and salmon and cream cheese. We might have had cucumber and cream cheese and ham and cheddar just because, and peanut butter and jelly for the kids. (Not ours, but the nephews).


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