The harvest is in full bloom during midsummer in Denmark. Seasons are short here, and some vegetables and berries are in season for only a few months or even weeks.
Because of this, it’s important to celebrate and enjoy things when they are here. As such, in May and June I eat asparagus almost every day, and then, as much as possible, strawberries and new potatoes when they start coming out.
Of course, you can find imported vegetables and fruit year-round, but they do not taste the same as the seasonal produce grown locally.
New potatoes command attention in Denmark
Denmark has the perfect climate and soil for potatoes, so there are many types from which to choose. Denmark is a nation of potato lovers, and they collectively agree that the new summer ones are the best in the world. When the potatoes are available, it will be mentioned on prime-time news.
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A lot of people grow potatoes in their gardens, or allotments. They also like to buy them as fresh as possible, often from roadside stalls in the country. It is a trust system, where you take the fruits and vegetables you want and leave money in a jar or tin.
You cook new potatoes the same day you harvest or purchase them, rinsing them in cold water and scraping the peel off with a small, sharp kitchen knife before boiling them in salted water. The best ones are small- to medium-sized, not too big. At the height of the season, you can buy them fresh every day.
Some debate exists about when the potato arrived in Denmark, but most likely it came with the French Huguenots in 1720. Up until 1820, the peasants were apprehensive about potatoes; it was the people of nobility who were most interested because they wanted to show they practiced the latest ideas from Europe. But new research shows this is not the whole truth. The peasants were merely cautious because if the new crop failed, they could not bear the risk. They started growing potatoes on small plots in their gardens or in a corner of their farmland.
When the potatoes proved to be strong and somewhat reliable, Denmark became a potato-growing nation and potatoes became the staple food of day laborers. They planted and harvested them, and some of their pay was in potatoes.
In my grandparents’ summer home, my grandfather was responsible for scraping the potatoes. When I was little girl, he would sit every morning on a three-legged stool in the back yard scraping potatoes with this pocketknife, drinking his morning beer. Sometimes other locals would come by to sit and chat with him and have a beer. When he was done with the potatoes, he would hand them over to my grandmother; she would keep them in a pot with cold water until it was time to cook.
We always had a hot meal at noon and then smørrebrød, an open sandwich on rye bread, for dinner at night. If there were any leftover potatoes, they would be served cold on rye bread for the evening meal (see recipe below) as, in Danish, “en kartoffelmad.”
Potatoes keep well over the winter and are, therefore, a perfect staple food for the cold northern climate. For the past 150 years, the main meal in Denmark has evolved around boiled potatoes. It is a food tradition shared in northern and Eastern Europe.
The way potatoes are cooked has changed over the past 30 years. Apart from boiled, as mash and served as condiment, potatoes are now also used a vegetable and cooked in many different ways with a variety of spices. Another tradition is warm potato salad made with white onions, vinegar and sugar, which is called old-fashioned potato salad. For a more modern summer version, cold potatoes are served in a salad with fresh red onions, radishes and loads of fresh parsley.
In the summer, new Danish potatoes are so good they become the center of the meal. They are boiled in salted water and served warm with butter, dill and flaky salt on the side. You don’t really need any more than that. They are also very good served with smoked mackerel or herring with a smoked cheese dressing, chives and radishes.
In these recipes I have used three types of potatoes. The purples are called Conga, the whites Sophia or Fjellfinn. You can substitute potatoes grown where you live. Find a potato that is firm and has a nutty sweet taste. Most important, it must not be flowery.
- 1 pound medium-sized potatoes
- 4 slices of rye bread, thinly sliced
- 12 radishes
- 1 leek
- 3 to 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 4 fresh lovage leaves to decorate with
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt, 10 percent fat
- 2 tablespoons chopped lovage (or parsley)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- Salt and pepper
- Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water. They should still be firm when done. Depending on the size, it will take between 12 and 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients for the cream, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cool the potatoes and cut into thin slices.
- Cut the leek in very thin slices, about ⅕ of an inch thick (1/2 centimeter), rinse and drain really well.
- Fry in oil in a big frying pan at high heat until crisp without burning. When done leave to rest on kitchen paper towel.
- Place the slices of rye bread on a serving tray, then divide the cold potato slices evenly on the bread.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the cream on top of the potatoes, divide the radishes on top of the cream and finish off with the fried leeks. Decorate with a lovage leaf before serving.
Main photo: Open Sandwich on Rye With Cold Potatoes. Credit: Trine Hahnemann