Nordic countries have outstanding berries; sweet and tasty, often small. The most popular in Denmark is the strawberry. The season starts around our midsummer celebration, Sankt Hans Aften, or St. John’s Eve, on June 23, and sometimes before. As a child growing up, we always had the first strawberries on midsummer night.
In the first few weeks, the berries are expensive, but then prices start to slide down to normal. Many families serve strawberries every day in the season, which can last from three to eight weeks depending on the weather. It is a popular berry to grow in home gardens, especially varieties like Dybdahl and Senga Sengana. Freshly picked and served with sugar and crème, this is a national summer dessert.
A new look at Danish tradition
Right now Denmark is experiencing a food revolution with Noma as the leading star. We have new farmers and a bigger variety of produce than ever. A lot of chefs here say that the new Nordic movement started because we lacked an interesting food culture. It’s not so much that; we do have a strong food culture, but it was considered third tier, after French and Italian. Now Denmark is experiencing an evolution of its tradition with more variety and closer attention paid to the season.
We are also experiencing a restaurant boom. We prefer as a culture to cook and eat at home, but that is changing with the new generations. Still, it is very expensive to dine out here, given the 25% VAT tax and a minimum restaurant salary of $20 per hour.
Strawberries have always been part of the tradition, usually served simply, raw with milk or with the cold fruit porridge.
I’ve never tasted better strawberries than the Danish varieties. As a little girl I picked them with my granny. We would go home with our summer treasure, rinse and freeze one batch and use the other to make cordials, jams and preserves.
Danish strawberries are all about versatility
Strawberries are eaten with raw oat flakes and cold milk in the morning and cut in slices and served on rye bread, open sandwich style. They’re made into cold soups and drinks with fresh mint, preserved whole for dessert, added to ice cream and sorbet, mixed with rhubarb for marmalade, tossed in salads with watermelon and feta and fresh mint, mixed with a little good quality raspberry vinegar and served with blue cheese.
The Danish dessert equivalent to tiramisu is “rød grød med fløde,” a fruit porridge served cold with cream. Almost any American, who has visited Denmark has been ask to try to pronounce the name of this dessert (oej goej mej floeje), which is almost impossible, and for some reason it always makes Danes laugh! It is nonetheless easy to prepare.
Serve the fruit porridge with cream or whole milk, never low-fat milk. The porridge has an intense flavor and high acidity which the cream balances. This is an important part of the taste.
Rød grød med fløde (Danish strawberry porridge)
4 pounds strawberries, rinsed and halved
400 grams (14 ounces) sugar
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthwise
4 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup of water
2 to 3 tablespoons caster sugar to sprinkle
2 to 3 cups cream
1. Place berries, sugar and vanilla bean in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove any white scum from the surface, lower the heat, and let simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Dissolve cornstarch in the water, and stir into porridge. Keep stirring as mixture returns to a boil. As soon as it starts thickening turn off the heat.
3. Pour into a serving bowl, sprinkle with a thin layer of caster sugar, and cool completely.
Serve with cold cream.
Photo: Danish strawberry dessert Rød grød med fløde. Credit: Trine Hahnemann