Skål to Midsommar, the folk horror-slash-ultimate break-up film from writer and director Ari Aster.
In the film, a group of Americans — including couple Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) — travel to participate in their Swedish friend’s fictional commune’s annual midsummer festival in the middle-of-nowhere village of Hälsingland, Sweden. The real nine-day pagan festival celebrates the summer solstice through centuries-old rites and ceremonies. The film’s version of this holiday notably includes a few gruesome traditions leading up to the crowning of the May Queen in the name of the community, farming, fertility, and the future abundance of the lands through — spoiler alert! — sacrifices and sex rituals.
And what is a Scandinavian holiday without food? It’s during shared mealtimes and feasts where the Hårga people unite and partake in the riches of their bountiful harvest together, from bread to pickled fish to roasted meat. It’s where those visiting Americans bear witness to their customs while consuming the edible (and occasionally hallucinogenic) products of the commune’s labor, inevitably becoming unknowing participants — and subjects — in the time-honored rituals themselves.
For the purposes of the film, Aster drew on various Swedish folk stories, traditions, and Nordic mythology to fashion the movie’s rituals for the very-real Midsummar holiday celebrated by the fictional cult. But since this is also a horror story, he did take certain gruesome liberties.
This is where Midsommar’s food stylist and chef Zoe Hegedus steps in. The food was presented seamlessly throughout the movie in a way that was “naturalistic and rustic using elements from the traditional Swedish cuisine,” Hegedus tells Eater. The trendiness of Nordic cuisine, a broad term that applies to the food of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, likely means most people outside the region envision a Noma-esque approach to eating. But Midsommar instead roots itself, more specifically, in older Scandinavian traditions drawn from Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish culture — reflecting how Scandinavians actually eat.
There were no fussy small plates or tweezered herbs to be seen during the daily communal meals depicted on film. Instead, they had to reflect the reality of the isolated Scandinavian village with a nod toward self-sufficient farming and preservation. Produce that emulated crops that could’ve been grown right on the set — potatoes, carrots, foraged greens — were employed, as were meats that could have been sourced from the farm-raised animals. Traditional cooking techniques like marinating, smoking, and salting were used with real meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. It all worked well for the set, too, since shoots tended to run long. “It’s a really good way to preserve food,” Hegedus says.
The meal showcases meat (there’s a farm on the premises), seafood (an important part of Nordic cuisine), vegetables (potatoes were a must), house-made butter, and foraged items like berries, leaves, and flowers. Francis Mallmann, the internationally lauded Argentine chef known for his proclivity for open-fire cooking, was a major inspiration for Hegedus. “He used really old techniques and natural techniques, like how to cook outside,” she explains. Bread and baked goods, also vital to Nordic cooking, play a large role. The meat pies, in particular, are the linchpin of another pivotal scene: a younger Hårgan invokes a love spell by placing a pubic hair into the goat-filled pie of her intended. This dish is paired in the film with beer laced with drops of menstrual blood.
There’s a certain level of trust when eating with others. You don’t typically question what’s in food when meals are set in front of you. It’s the heart of what food symbolizes, really, through good intentions. By allowing unfamiliar people to take care of you, nourish you, and share their customs with you, it’s how people welcome you into their lives. Why would they want to harm you? But as the visiting Americans find out, darker secrets lie behind the closed doors of the seemingly friendly and close-knit Swedes.
The stunning and — again, spoiler alert! — somewhat gory final dinner scene, which takes place after Dani is crowned the festival’s May Queen, includes a number of surreal dishes that the guest of honor experiences after drinking hallucinogenic tea. To really nail the fantastical details of the elaborate feast. Hegedus employed a team of cooks and fine artists who helped create the otherworldly spreads. The crew fashioned the bottom half of a roasted turkey so that it appeared to be diving into a tray surrounded by fish heads and pig legs. They also took two whole goats with meat seemingly scraped off their bodies and positioned them to look like a two-headed skeleton creature. And the team created a tower of crawfish that looked as if it was spilling toward the table. Even more over-the-top: Hegedus fashioned what she called the “Hårga man cake.” The sprawling confection was shaped like a small man who is lying down on the table surrounded by baked apples for a rustic feel.
It’s an extraordinary meal befitting the foreign May Queen to mark the end of this unfamiliarly bizarre sun-drenched holiday. “I made really strange things,” Hegedus says.