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Planning a 50th wedding anniversary party for my Scandinavian parents - menu ideas?

My parents will celebrate their 50th anniversary in late September. Both have had major health issues this year and a couple of months ago it seemed highly unlikely there would be another anniversary to celebrate. My dad is a tough, 90-year-old Norwegian and has rallied again, so I need to get planning!

Here are some logistical details:

Party is on a Saturday (9/24), middle of the afternoon for a couple of hours so we can control the end time for my dad. We are using our church fellowship hall and kitchen, which is adequately equipped and large enough for our expected group. I am guessing 50-75 guests, probably 2/3 local extended family and the rest friends. Budget - nothing hard and fast set, would be happy to spend $1500-2000. No alcohol since my parents aren't drinkers and we are using the church.

My food goals are:
1) to serve some of my parents' Scandinavian favorites
2) have enough variety and flavors to please our guests
3) make it easy on myself (and my husband, who will help a lot and my brother who will want to help but will be mostly useless) so we can enjoy the day and our guests, and
4) to personally make at least a couple of the menu items

Right now, I am thinking of a smorgasbord type meal, with smorrbrod (small openfaced sandwiches in a variety of types), Swedish meatballs, cold meats and cheeses (gjetost, Jarlsberg, havarti, etc.) with crispbreads like Wasa and Kavli. Some kind of salad, cucumber seeming to be the most traditional. Then the sweets--lefse, kringler, not sure what else.

Please let me know your thoughts--what am I missing? Thanks in advance!

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  1. Several types of herring/fish. Beet salad? Overall, sounds very good, though most smorgasbords I've seen don't have made sandwiches. You are going the extra mile with those.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Joebob

      Oh yes, must have herring. My folks are pretty unadventurous eaters, even by Norwegian meat- and-potatoes standards. We will have guests who will enjoy the traditional foods like greasy, salty fish :-). Beet salad is another great suggestion.

      Today I was in Ballard (Seattle neighborhood with lots of Scandinavians, meaning good places to find traditional foods). I found a place that makes a variety of beautiful smorrebrod and will do party platters.

      Thanks for the suggestions!

      1. re: jlhinwa

        Hi, jlhinwa:

        Since you are in Ballard, you must have found Scandinavian Specialties on 15th. If so, you are in good hands! Make sure they include some Rullepølse, and be aware that Norwegians traditionally favor one kind, Danes another (I think of lamb). You might also consider an oxtail barley soup with traditional bulla (spoon dumplings); this would be a good DIY dish.

        Good on you for doing this for your parents.

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        PS If either mom or dad likes fresh lingonberries in dishes, I may have a name and local phone # for you.

        1. re: kaleokahu

          Hi kaleokahu! I don't actually live in Ballard, but make the trek from Federal Way about once a month so my dad can get some of his favorite foods and then have lunch at the Lockspot. We used to go to Olsen's and were heartbroken when it closed last year. I can still smell that store in my mind. Sigh.

          Anyway, we found Scandinavian Specialties after Olsen's closed and I just have to say "where have they been all my life?!?" Oh my gosh, I LOVE that store. That is where we are getting the smorrbrod sandwiches and other savory items. We just have to narrow it down because they have so much to offer. They also seem quite accommodating. Thanks for the tip about the rullepolse. That is not something I recall our family eating, but it sounds and looks very good. The spoon dumplings just reminded me of a potato dumpling dish served with lamb that is a favorite of my dad's. It has been years since we've had it--I think it was pretty labor intensive and my mom gave up rigorous cooking years ago...after all, isn't that why she has me?!? I may have to try that one out; if not for the party, then for a special dinner for them.

          My dad adores lingonberries and will eat it anyway--it is the one type of jam we must always have in supply. I would absolutely love to have a name and # of a local contact if you have it.

          Thank you so much! You guys rock!

          1. re: jlhinwa

            For lingonberries, check with Lenning Farms in Mt. Vernon. www.lingonberry.com (360) 466-3675. Ask for Beverly.

            1. re: kaleokahu

              Thank you so much! I will be heading north in a couple of weeks (the new American Girl store beckons...oh the joy). I will definitely call and speak with Beverly. Thank you so much!

              1. re: jlhinwa

                IKEA carries lingonberry jam.
                Now, if you could find cloud berry or mylte, jam, that's a score!

                1. re: Passadumkeg

                  I've seen cloud berry jam at the Ikea here in the DC area...

                  1. re: Jeserf

                    Where? We've got a son in Arlington. thanks. In Norway, if you know where a mylte patch is, you tell no one.

          2. re: kaleokahu

            Fresh lingonberries?! Would you share the name and number with one more? Lingonberries are the one Scandinavian food I've introduced my Portuguese blooded fella to that he goes crazy over. I keep thinking that I need to buy some bushes.

            1. re: Vetter

              Lingonberries of tyttebaer in Norwegian, grow wold in Maine.

              1. re: Passadumkeg

                That should read, Ligonberries or tyttebaer, grow wild in Maine.

                1. re: Passadumkeg

                  Gotcha the first time. :-) Seriously? That is very cool.

      2. Gravlax with mustard sauce, ham (easy and will feed many...swedes do a fresh ham but glazed, not spiral cut, will feed many and be easy. Lingonberries. There is a great glazed ham (orange marmelade, mustard, brown sugar) recipe in the saveur cooks american cookbook. Potatoes either boiled new peeled or potato salad. Beets, cucumber salad with white vinegar, dill, a little sugar and white pepper. Brown beans (bruna bronor) with molasses. Marcus Samuelson's Aquavit cookbook has modern takes on some of the traditional dishes.

        Strawberry creme cake...lefse not being part of my Swedish tradition....Norwegian? Shrimp unless crawfish are easy...September not a crawfish month?

        Let people make their own sandwiches....

        Decorate with red tulips. garnish with sprigs of dill..

        I wish I could help you cook! If you are interested in a gravlax recipe let me know. Egullet had a great one posted that I adopted several years ago.

        Also...potato sausage. Swedes will sometimes have two passes on the smorgasbord...cold food then hot. We do not do that but mix it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: ldubois2

          Thanks so much! I love the ideas. Lingonberries, for sure. Beets and cucumber salad also. And potatoes...hello?! I cannot forgot some form of potatoes. These are all great ideas, thank you so much!

          Potato sausage is something I've never tried, being warned off of it by my dad. (Again, not at all an adventurous eater!). My aunt used to make it for Christmas every year...think they called it "potato skarv?" I'll bet one of my cousins has her recipe.

          I would very much appreciate your recipe for gravlax. Thank you for the offer. I have never made it before but salmon is one of my favorite things to eat and living in the Pacific NW, we can always get good salmon. I would love to serve that.

          No lefse in Sweden? I had no idea that it was a Norwegian only thing. My dad is from Norway, my mom is Norwegian, Swedish & Danish so on her side of the family. the foods we ate were probably a mix (like the potatoe sausage).

          I just found a Danish bakery today that makes kransekakke (pastry with the tiered rings and flags). Their prices are great and the items I sampled today were very good. I think I will try to focus on doing lefse and doing it really well. Considering I have never made it before, I need to get busy!

            1. re: jlhinwa

              When I read your post the first time, I saw Scandinavian and thought Swedish...;)

              No, no lefse in Sweden. They do make Swedish pancakes, of course.

              Here is the recipe I use for gravlax. There are many good ones, but I like the simplicity of this one. The key is to turn it daily and press with a heavy object. I have a brick wrapped in foil that does the trick for me.

              Gravlax with a Mustard Sauce
              Serves 10 as Appetizeror 18 as Hors d'oeuvre.

              The Gravlax preparation

              for the salmon itself, I go to Costco and buy the huge slabs of raw salmon (which have no bones and no skin):

              one 2-3 lb. piece of fresh salmon filet (use the thickest part for this) divide into two equal pieces

              The Cure:
              1/2 cup of sugar
              1/2 cup of coarse, kosher salt
              1 large bunch of fresh dill (stems included)
              2 Tbsp freshly coarse ground black peppercorns
              4 Tbsp vodka

              Mix dry ingredients together and rub into the salmon (which is cut into two large slabs and , at the end of prep, put the two pieces "face to face")... douse with the vodka and put the fresh dill on top ... replace the second slab of salmon on top of the first after rubbing in the curing mixture ... then I cover tightly with saran wrap, a bit of foil, and wrap a brick in aluminum foil to weight it all down ...

              Cover tightly and place in back part of your refrigerator and let cure for 3-4 days... I turn and baste it with the accumulated juices once each day. .... after the curing, wash off the Gravlax with cool water, dry with paper towelling, slice thinly (use a very sharp knife so as not to crush the delicate fish)

              serve with the honey mustard dill sauce(on the side in a little bowl):

              1 Tbsp sweet, regular yellow mustard (i.e. French's)
              1 tsp dijon style mustard
              2 Tsp sugar (or honey works well, too)
              1 1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
              3/4 cup salad oil
              chopped fresh dill
              salt & pepper

              Mix all ingredients except for the oil and dill .... then whisk in oil in a steady stream ( making an emulsion... like mayonnaise ) ... when thickened, mix in the chopped fresh dill ....refrigerate and let flavors meld (can be done after the 3 days of curing)...

              To serve: I slice the salmon very thinly and place on a large decorative platter (black lacquer is a nice color to set off the salmon) .... serve garnished with lemon wedges, chopped red onion, capers, grape tomatoes (or sliced beefsteak tomatoes), more fresh dill sprigs for color, creme fraiche ...

              Hope you and your guests will enjoy it! Very simple ... 15 minutes prep and then let it sit for the 3-4 days .. slice and serve ... how simple is that for such a delectable and beautiful presentation?

              Hardly original, my first efforts were inspired by the preparation of Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit in NYC ....(copied and adjusted from egullet.com)

          1. Thanks for the gravlax recipes, suburbanmom and ldubois2! I really appreciate your help.

            Oddly, my parents don't enjoy smoked salmon and my husband is a vegetarian, so that is something I've never really thought about preparing at home. My daughter and I both love to eat it, though. I am thinking we will have a wonderful time trying it out in advance of the party! I'll let you know how it turns out.

            1. It sounds as though you are in great shape with a place that makes smorrebrod and a place that makes kransekakke and other food ideas so I will not speak to food as such but just to general things I learned from catering my parents' 50th a few years back.

              1. You cannot make too many or too detailed lists, including everything you will be serving and a timeline of preparation and/or pickup and plans for storage, including fridge/freezer space.

              2. Confirm absolutely everything you have ordered not once but twice. First maybe a week before and again a day or two before. The one place I did not do that second confirmation my stuff was not ready.

              3. Delegate as much as you can, including designating people to stand by the door greeting arrivals, people to take coats if relevant, and so on. If you delegate anyone to pick things up, double-confirm that with them too, even if they think you are being a control freak. :)

              4. Think through if you want to put "no gifts" on your invitation or if you want people to bring old photos, etc. Then plan for some people to do something different as well as some to go along with the request and have someone who can cope with all of it so you don't have to.

              5. Consider hiring some help to pass stuff and fill stuff up and clean up along the way and at the end. I was on a pretty tight budget and that was money very well-spent that allowed me to enjoy the party too. If it applies, remember to tell them to speak up when addressing the honorees and others.

              6. If you are going to have speeches or anything like that, be sure to communicate the plan clearly to several people who can help with crowd direction and so on.

              7. Plan to do nothing whasoever the next day.

              8. Have fun -- you will be so glad you did it!!!

              2 Replies
              1. re: GretchenS

                Gretchen, thank you so much for the excellent suggestions! Many of the items you have suggested have not occured to me at all. Typically, I am a plan-ahead type person, but I hadn't even thought about some of your points so this will be invaluable to me in getting started! I am going to start list-making tomorrow and will get my brother and husband in on it with me, like it or not (they are more "fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants" types).

                My father has been so ill and sadly developed severe dementia about a year and a half ago. When his 90th birthday rolled around this past April, we were holding our breath to see if he was going to make it--his health was that fragile. There was no way we could even consider planning any type of party to mark the occasion and he was so disoriented and combative that it would have been hugely unpleasant even if his health was stable.

                For reasons I still don't understand, his health has stabilized nicely and his mental state is much better. He definitely has dementia, but it is a much more pleasant form these days and he isn't combative or unpleasant. He just happily repeats the same stories about 25 times in a visit. :-) My mom has her own physical and cognitive health issues but hey, it looks like they are going to make it to 50 years and be in decent enough shape to have a party, So we are going to have a party!

                Considering the fact that it seemed unlikely they would reach this milestone, I feel so very blessed that we are able to plan a party for them. I want it to be very special, but not over-taxing for them. And I also want to enjoy it myself...I want to be able to sit with them as they visit with guests and enjoy their special day. Good thing that #3 (delegating) is the one thing I am pretty good at!

                Thank you again! I am so very grateful to have this wonderful CH community to help me plan a special occasion for my folks.

                1. re: jlhinwa

                  It is so tough to go through all of that, I am so happy for you that you are now able to plan a celebration of such a joyous event! Have a wonderful time!

              2. These are non-traditional, but they're very easy to make for a crowd, and I think pretty evocative of the butter & almond glory of Scandinavian desserts. They're really reliable and positively delish. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                Ah, now you have me wanting to call my mom for all the cookie recipes she inherited from my dad's family matriarchs - mmmm cookies, glorious, beautiful cookies...

                1 Reply
                1. re: Vetter

                  Love that recipe, thanks! And you're right, the butter and almond paste definitely is well used and loved in Scandinavian baking.