Mickelsmäss: Celebrating Swedish Harvest
01 January 2017
Time to revive an old Harvest tradition.
People feel very proud of buying local produce and in many cases it lessens the environmental impact of food production. However as we well know, some climates are better suited than others to growing fresh produce of different types, and it is difficult to ensure consistent, excellent quality at a local level. We can help by analysing local produce and identifying areas for improvement, particularly at a time of the year when local produce is widely celebrated throughout Europe.
Traditionally, Harvest marks the end of the growing season, and more significantly, the end of summer. In Sweden, this would have coincided with Mickelsmäss or Mikaeli Day – St Michael’s Day on the 29th September. This is one of the historic Church Quarter Days, the others being Christmas Day (25th December), The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (25th March) and Misummer Day or the Feast of St John (24th June). Today in Sweden, some serious celebrating takes place on at least two of these days…
After 1772, Mikaeli Day was celebrated in the old peasant community on the Sunday following 29 th September. It marked a Festival weekend at the end of the Harvest, when historically employment came to an end for farmworkers and servants. A week’s leave was given, before work for the new season started again. Along with the leave came the annual wages, together with payment in advance of the following year’s employment.
People therefore had money in their pockets and food was in abundance - good reasons for markets and festivities, with plenty of dancing and celebration.
Traditions varied according to geographical location; since Sweden is a long country, climate and conditions vary from North to South.
In the North, on the fertile border from northern Bohuslän, across the lakes to northern Uppland, the cattle were brought down from the mountain pastures to the villages in the valleys. This formed part of the festivities as the cows were decorated and brought in processions, while young girls blew horns made out of birch bark.
By this time in the South, the harvest would mostly have been completed, and the strong Mickels Mash beer was well in production!
With the advent of mechanisation and modern farming methods, the agricultural calendar has changed. Yet even today in Sweden, because of the climate and growing conditions, there are still around 100 more growing days in the South than in the North.
Northern crops are predominantly oats, barley, root vegetables and animal fodder. Further South in Skåne, wheat, green veg and sugar beet are grown, along with fruit. At this time of year, pumpkins are abundant in Öland!
In Sweden today, Mikaeli Day is no longer celebrated very much in its traditional form. Working conditions on the farm are much improved together with pay, as are production methods, so the need for such a celebration after Harvest has diminished.
Yet there is a strong sense of tradition worldwide, and in many countries Harvest is still a time for much rejoicing, particularly where the crop is precious. In Ghana there is a Yam Festival, in China the Moon Festival, and in Bali the Rice Harvest is dedicated to the Rice Goddess, according to Hindu culture.
In the Western world, the Harvest Festival is alive and well, usually as part of a Church celebration. This still takes place in Sweden and is known as known as Thanksgiving, usually early in October.
There has been a revival of the Mikaeli Marknad (Market) in parts of Sweden, focusing on local produce. Since 1997 The Ölands Sköderfest has become Sweden’s most popular Harvest Festival. It is based on the traditional celebrations, featuring the locally grown pumpkin as its main symbol. Over 200 000 visitors arrive over a 5 day period to sample local cuisine, markets, art exhibitions and many other attractions. Visit Ölands Sköderfest online. There is also an Apple Market in Kivik, Österland – a two day festival during the last weekend in September. Other markets take place, including those in Helsingborg and Tjolöholm Castle.
This all shows that Harvest celebrations are alive and well, and these wonderful, rich events should inspire special promotions of fresh fruit and vegetables within the supermarket.
Apples, pumpkins and autumn fruit are brilliantly coloured, and a “Mikaeli Mini Market” within the produce department should not be too difficult to accomplish. Root vegetables and beans should also be promoted at this time, and there should be no excuses for not having the freshest food available straight after Harvest!
Some menu suggestions for a Harvest Supper using local produce and its derivatives (apple juice, cider, beer…) would soon fire the imagination of the customer.
Who knows, Mickelsmäss could grow again as a party celebration! People love a feast, and today’s chefs would jump at the excuse to prepare some wonderful menus. Summer has finished and the December festivities are a long way off, so let’s make the most of the abundance of fresh produce.
Let us handle the quality of your produce for you so that you can go to a Mikaeli Market, get in the party spirit, and start celebrating!