Smorgasbord. It's a cherished tradition in Sweden, a time to visit with family and friends and partake of a variety of Scandinavian delights - a feast for the eye as well as the taste buds
Too much fire-power for the burners? If you had 10 women working in the kitchen for two days running, all of them professional chefs, caterers, and food writers, you might think you were headed for trouble.
Not so in the case of an impressive two-dozendish smorgasbord prepared here recently by the Women's Culinary Guild of Boston.
The late Sunday afternoon event was hosted by Ann Robert at Maison Robert, the downtown restaurant she runs with her husband, Lucien, housed in Boston's old City Hall.
The menu was designed by Inger Johansson, director of specialty foods at the Boston provisioner's firm of Dole and Bailey, with desserts orchestrated by Ingrid Motsis, teacher of baking and fine breads at Newbury Junior College.
Logistics is the key to variety in smorgasbords.
The big restaurants in Stockholm can offer upwards of 100 different dishes, says Ms. Johansson, who still speaks with a well-marinated Swedish accent after 18 years in the United States.
A family smorgasbord - for a wedding, perhaps, or a holiday - may include 35 or 40 items. For church dinners - which the Boston smorgasbord reminded one of in its warmth and supportiveness - the number might drop to 20.
``Even in restaurants, the smorgasbord is designed for a warm, laid-back atmosphere,'' says Johansson. ``You never rush. You plan to sit there for hours. You can't eat such a dinner and leave in 45 minutes.''
The smorgasbord is usually held on a Sunday, or a Saturday in Scandinavian homes, whenever a big gathering of people is planned.
``But the hostess has to do it all herself,'' Johansson quickly adds. ``There's no such thing as a potluck smorgasbord, with guests bringing different dishes. That's very American.
``In Sweden, women are very proud of their cooking and their own recipes, many of which have been in the family for generations.''
The structure of the menu can follow one of two directions: either the cold fish dishes first, served with rye crisp and rye bread and cheeses, then the cold meat dishes, then the hot fish and hot meat dishes; or both cold and hot fish dishes first, followed by the cold and hot meat dishes.
``Vegetables are mostly root vegetables, like parsnips and turnips, or the hardy cauliflower family varieties like broccoli, always served hot,'' Johansson says.
There may be pickled beets, or pickled cucumbers. ``But never a tossed salad!''
Now for the Guild's smorgasbord:
The cold fish dishes indicated the wide variety of species available fresh in American markets today: five types of marinated herring (glassblower's herring, pickled herring, herring in sour cream, in mustard sauce, and with sour cream and chives), and a herring salad, served with assorted breads made by Ms. Matsos, and cheeses.
Then came smoked eel with egg salad, dill, and tomatoes; dill-cured salmon (gravlax) with mustard sauce; a marinated mackerel; a poached cold salmon with mayonnaise; Swedish shrimps with mayonnaise; and a cod salad with capers and eggs.
The hot dishes began with ``Janson's Temptation,'' a miraculous baked potato dish with potatoes, onions, Swedish anchovy fillets, cream, and bread crumbs.
Then came poached cod fillets with shrimps and a b'echamel sauce, and a baked smelt casserole.
The meat dishes featured smoked reindeer, smoked venison sausages, roast pork, and fancy meatballs with lingonberries.
A liver pat'e - made of pork liver, pork butt, onions, marjoram, garlic, Swedish anchovies (which tend to be sweet), heavy cream, and eggs was yet another Johansson family recipe featured with the meats.
A sweet-sour red cabbage and assorted vegetables rounded out the first tastings - which had taken the diners several fresh plates and trips to the buffet over a couple of hours to sample.
After an interval of entertainment by a Swedish song group called St"ambandet, the smorgasbord finished off sweetly: A dried fruit soup, a Danish celebratory cake, a curd cheese cake with cloudberries, and finally a spectacular ``princess torte'' - a genoise, preserves, and whipped cream concoction encased in a marzipan covering to look like a mushroom cap.
Does Johansson, a former chef at the Swedish consulate in New York, go to all this smorgasbord trouble for her own entertaining?
``No,'' she says. ``Usually I entertain up in Vermont. I may buy a leg of venison, and do venison steaks with a wild mushroom sauce. I will do a potato casserole, and vegetables with a salad - something very simple.''
But the Scandinavian touch is obviously there in the venison, which has always been very popular in Sweden, as elsewhere in Europe, and is now available in Canada and is also imported fresh from New Zealand.
Here is a sampling of Johansson's recipes: Janson's Temptation (Janssons Frestelse) 6 medium potatoes 3 large yellow onions 10 to 12 Swedish anchovy fillets 1 tablespoon bread crumbs Salt and black pepper, to taste 2 tablespoons butter 11/2 cups heavy cream
Peel, rinse, and cut potatoes into julienne strips. Keep in cold water until ready to use.
Peel and slice onions. Saut'e onions in butter until soft.
Place half the drained and dried potatoes in buttered baking dish and top with layer of onions.
Arrange 10-12 Swedish anchovy fillets on top, cover with remaining potatoes, and sprinkle top with 1 tablespoon bread crumbs, salt, and black pepper. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter.
Bake in hot oven (425 degrees F.) for 15 to 20 minutes.
Pour brine from anchovies and 11/2 cups heavy cream over fish and bake until fish is golden and potatoes are soft, about 25 to 30 minutes. Hot Red Cabbage Salad (R"odkal) 1 large head red cabbage 4 tablespoons butter 4 tablespoons red currant jelly 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 1/4 cup good meat stock 2-4 apples 1 yellow onion studded with 5 whole cloves
Cut cabbage into thin slices, discarding core. Rinse. Melt butter in Dutch oven, add cabbage, and saut'e over medium heat a few minutes.
Peel and dice apples. Add apples and remainder of ingredients to cabbage.
Mix, cover, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Add more stock if necessary.
Remove onion and correct seasoning.
Serves 10 to 12. Pork Roast With Gravy (Fl"askkarre med Gr"addsas och R"odkal) 1 pork loin, boned 2 teaspoons ground ginger 1 teaspoon thyme 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 1 large onion, sliced 2 apples, sliced
Remove most fat from pork, leaving just a thin layer. Rub spice mixture all over meat.
Line bottom of roasting pan with apples and onions. Place meat on rack, insert meat thermometer into thickest part of meat. Roast in slow oven (300 degrees F.) about 2 hours.
Remove meat from oven and keep warm while making gravy.
Remove apples and onions from pan and scrape pan thoroughly. Pour off pan juices and measure liquid, which should be 1 quart. If not, add some good pork stock. Pour liquid into saucepan and whisk until smooth.
Heat and bring to a boil. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Mix 4 ounces flour with water and add to simmering stock in a slow stream, while whisking. Add cream and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes and correct the seasoning.
Carve pork into slices 1/4-inch thick and arrange on serving platter. Nap with a little sauce and serve remaining sauce separately.
Garnish with fresh apple wedges and fresh parsley sprigs.
Serves 15. Dried Fruit Soup (Frukt Soppa) 1 1/2 pounds mixed dried fruit 2 cinnamon sticks 3-4 quarts water 9 ounces sugar 3-4 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with a little water
Rinse fruit, cover with water, and let soak 2 hours. Bring to boil in same water with sugar and cinnamon and simmer until soft.
Transfer fruit to a soup bowl. Bring liquid to a boil and add cornstarch and water mixture slowly, while stirring. Bring to a boil and ladle over fruit.
Sprinkle a little sugar on top. Chill and serve with whipped cream.
This soup should be as thick as an ordinary cream soup. More cornstarch may have to be added.
Serves 24. Curd Cheese Cake (Ostkaka) 11/2 pounds cottage cheese 21/4 cups heavy cream 6 eggs 3 tablespoons sugar 11/2 teaspoons vanilla 6 tablespoons flour 9 tablespoons chopped almonds
Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Grease an ovenproof dish.
Beat eggs lightly with cream, mix with remaining ingredients, and pour into prepared baking dish. Bake for 1 to 11/2 hours.
Turn over crust with a fork a couple of times while baking. Cake should have a nice golden color when done.
Serve slightly warm with an assortment of jams or with fruit and whipped cream.