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:
accompanied by tiny shrimp:
Next came ham with vegetable-mayonnaise salad:
and rare roast beef with 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:
Last of all traditionally comes the cheese, in this case Havarti, garnished 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!