Helen Ballard creates a Swedish Solstice Celebration

A Midsummer’s Eve engagement party featuring striped bass, Nordic-style potato salad, and lots of blackberries
Swedish Solstice
To keep the evening relaxed, Ballard set up the dinner around her kitchen table.

Photograph by Amber Fouts

When I received my invitation to a Swedish midsummer-themed engagement party, I was not surprised to see the host was the impeccably stylish Helen Ballard, founder of Ballard Designs. Leave it to Helen to have a dear friend who is a hip young Swedish pop star. The bride, Ulrika Lindstrom, is engaged to music producer Nick Chahwala. With their wedding date looming in August, Helen thought it would be fun to incorporate the bride’s Scandinavian heritage into a dinner party.

Swedish Solstice
Photograph by Amber Fouts

The timing was perfect, as the summer solstice (June 20 this year) is a major holiday in Sweden, ranking right up there with Christmas. Traditionally, Swedes mark the day with singing, field games, and dancing around a Maypole—not to mention consuming lots of grilled fish, potatoes, strawberries, and vodka! It’s also an occasion for love. Legend has it that if you put seven different flowers under your pillow on Midsummer’s Eve, you’ll dream about the person you’ll marry.

Helen may not have had a Maypole, but the evening was definitely a celebration of love. Our host never does anything halfway. Every detail had to be authentic, but she also gave tradition a contemporary twist with a chic black-and-white theme. The tablescape displayed a smattering of Swedish-style props, including modern vases filled with white anemones. The napkins were textured linen with black stripes, accented with white clay intaglios and tiny sprigs of fresh dill. Ceramic fish swam in schools around the table, a whimsical Scandinavian touch.

The menu was inspired by Swedish traditions, but with a nod to the black-and-white decor. There were blackberry vodka cocktails and blackberry shortcake for dessert. Ballard also arranged a clever caviar-and-endive appetizer to look like an anemone.

After dessert Ulrika gave us an impromptu concert. Helen says her parties often involve guests who are musicians. In fact, her daughter Emily picked up a guitar to accompany Ulrika. Alas, no one performed the traditional Swedish Midsummer “Little Frog Dance.” Perhaps we needed more vodka?

The menu
Blackberry Solstice Cocktail
Caviar Goat Cheese Anemone Appetizer
Swedish-Style Grilled Whole Striped Bass
Nordic Potato Salad with Radishes and Watercress
Grilled Asparagus and Carrots
Blackberry Shortcake

Recipes

Swedish Solstice
Photograph by Amber Fouts

Blackberry Solstice Cocktail
Serves 1
• 4 blackberries
• 8 mint leaves
• 2 ounces blackberry vodka
• 4 tablespoons pomegranate blueberry juice
• Ice

Muddle the berries with mint in the bottom of the glass. Add vodka, juice, and ice and serve.

 

Swedish Solstice
Photograph by Amber Fouts

Swedish-Style Grilled
Whole Striped Bass
Serves 8
• 8 (¼-pound to ½-pound) whole striped bass, cleaned and gutted
• 4 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced
• ½ red onion, thinly sliced
• ½ cup chopped fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnish
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon sea salt

Pat the fish dry. In a bowl, combine lemon slices, onion, dill, 2 tablespoons olive oil (reserve 1 tablespoon for grilling the fish), and ½ teaspoon salt.

Stuff each fish with the dill mixture. Rub the fish with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining sea salt. Oil the grill and preheat to high temperature. Place the fish onto the grates. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, flipping the fish very carefully as the skin can come loose. Plate and garnish with fresh sprigs of dill. Serve warm.

Nordic Potato Salad with Radishes and Watercress
Serves 8 to 10
• 1 ½ pounds small white potatoes, about 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 2 bunches watercress
• 1 bunch rainbow radishes
• ½ red onion, thinly sliced

For the dill dressing (makes 1 cup):
• 2 large pasteurized egg yolks
• 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
• 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
• ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Whisk together yolks, lemon juice, and mustard in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine olive oil and vegetable oil. Add oil mixture a few drops at a time to yolk mixture, whisking constantly, until all oil is incorporated and mixture is emulsified. (If mixture separates, stop adding oil and continue whisking until mixture comes together, then resume adding oil.) Once the ingredients come together, add the fresh dill and sea salt and stir to combine.

Assembling the potato salad: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add sea salt and whole potatoes and boil until potatoes are soft yet firm, about 20 minutes. Clean and rinse the watercress; set aside. Wash the radishes and cut them in half. Once the potatoes have cooled, cut them in half. Place the cooled and cut potatoes into a large bowl and toss with the dill dressing. Add the radishes and watercress, then the onion slices. Serve chilled but not cold.

 

Swedish Solstice
Photograph by Amber Fouts

Blackberry Shortcake
Serves 8
Cake:
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 6 eggs
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  2/3 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line and butter a 13-inch square cake pan. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, blend the sugar and eggs until fluffy and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Sift the flour with the baking powder and add slowly to the egg mixture while the mixer is running. Slowly add the water and mix until incorporated. Divide the batter into the pans. Bake for 20 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool.

Blackberry sauce
• 2 pints blackberries
• 1 cup sugar

Assembly:
• 2 pints blackberries
• 1 pint heavy cream

In a heavy saucepan on medium heat, add blackberries and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes until the blackberries have dissolved. Strain into a bowl and set aside. Be careful, as the sauce is very hot!

To assemble: Whip heavy cream with a mixer until stiff peaks are formed. With a 4-inch-round cookie cutter, cut out disks from cake. You should have eight 1-inch-thick disks. Place a disk on a plate and add whipped cream, fresh berries, and 2 to 3 tablespoons of blackberry sauce. Serve.

 

Swedish Solstice
Left to right: Chawala, Ballard, and Lindstrom

Photograph by Amber Fouts

Ulrika and Nick
A native of Stockholm, Ulrika is classically trained, but the H&M cover girl’s style is often compared to Gwen Stefani. Her YouTube channel has had more than 2 million views, and her first full EP is due out this summer. Nick is a Grammy-nominated producer (for Katy Perry). Both are owners of Bravo Ocean Studios near Grant Park.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.