Friday, June 20, 2008


JoeIt's Midsummer Day, the biggest holiday in Sweden. This is the day when everyone heads out to their cabin in the woods, eats lots of pickled herring, drinks too much aquavit, and then hops around a May pole singing:
Little frogs, little frogs are funny to look at.
They have no ears, no ears, no tails.
Croak! Croak! Croak!

Well, I don't yet know what Midsummer holds for us, but yesterday, along with everyone else in Uppsala, I went shopping for some of the required ingredients. Needless to say, Systembolaget was a madhouse, although not too many people were buying aquavit, which is what I would have expected. Instead most people were buying cases of beer, with maybe some hard cider to wash it down—hard cider is a very popular traditional drink here, and there's a lot of it, ranging from 0.7% to 7.0% alcohol (anything below 2.5% alcohol can be sold in the grocery store, and isn't taxed as heavily as more alocoholic beverages, so low-alcohol cider is one of the cheapest and tastiest bottled beverages available in Sweden, going for roughly the same price per volume as mineral water).

If Systembolaget was crowded, the mega-grocery store next to it was a nightmare. It was so packed in some sections that people couldn't move, and I wound up getting stuck for 5 minutes in the middle of an aisle, completely snarled in a shopping cart traffic jam that went as far as the eye could see. That particular hold-up was caused by the strawberry station, a large kiosk set up just for the day, where three employees were dishing out strawberries by the kilo. There was a similar scrum at the source of the next requisite midsummer ingredient, the new potatoes. These at least were self serve, and better distributed to avoid the mess. There were six boxes of them, each about a cubic meter in size. My favorite part is that the potatoes are packed in fake dirt (a loose blend of potting mix and packing material), I presume so that when you manage to get to the box you get the experience of digging for your potatoes yourself. Whatever the reason for doing it, the result is one filthy pile of tiny little potatoes. I rounded out the days purchases with some crispbread, some cured salmon (yum!), and some pickled herring in mustard sauce (uggh!).

Now if tradition holds, it should start raining all over the country right around mid-day when everyone is starting their smorgasbords. No matter how the weather turns out or what we wind up doing, though, we've got fresh strawberries, so apparently we're set for the day:

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