Midsummer celebrations for first birthday

A midsummer celebration is under way in Grasmere to mark the first birthday of the village’s most distinctive new café, Mathilde’s.

Part of the Heaton Cooper Studio in the centre of the popular tourist destination, Mathilde’s has won both fans and praise during its first 12 months.

With a menu heavily influenced by Scandinavian food, the café is following traditions of Norway and Sweden, where Midsummer’s Eve is one of the most important days of the year, rivalling Christmas with its festive spirit.

“Our café has become the heart and soul of Grasmere for visitors from all over the world who love art and good food,” said studio director Becky Heaton Cooper.

“It was named after the wife of Alfred Heaton Cooper, the young country girl from Norway who fell in love with an English painter and together they founded a dynasty of great landscape artists. So we are very pleased to be celebrating our first anniversary in Scandinavian style.”

Mathilde’s terrace

A new menu of Scandinavian speciality “smorgasbords”, is launched this week, featuring meat and fish dishes such as air-dried juniper mutton, venison salami, ham hock and capers, roll mop herring and dill cured gravlax salmon.

These are served with rye bread and crisp breads, pickles and green tomato relish. There will be special celebration cakes and summery drinks featuring lingonberries available in the café.

Mathilde’s menu also includes dishes such as salt baked beetroot salad, slow cooked belly of pork with hasselback potatoes, asparagus, peas and smoked oats; and kottbullar, a Scandinavian meatball dish with chive and potato salad, cream gravy, sauerkraut and lingonberry.

Mathilde’s has been featured in a number of magazines during its first year, and was a finalist in two categories in the Cumbria food and drink awards, for best newcomer and best cafe.

Becky said: “The café, with its popular terrace and huge window looking onto the fells, was part of our expansion project which includes the new archive gallery. It has been successful way beyond our expectations.

“We have a great team, led by chef Rob McGill and manager Nicola Tickle, and they have developed a menu which our visitors really love.”

In Scandinavian countries, traditionally Midsummer was celebrated on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, but the holiday has its roots in a pre-Christian solstice festival.

The focus of Midsummer celebrations is the maypole (or Midsummer pole) decorated with greenery and flowers. The maypole is a comparatively new part of the Midsummer tradition, coming from Germany, where the pole was decorated with leaves and raised on May 1. Since spring comes later to Scandinavian countries it was hard to find the greenery to decorate the pole on May 1, so the tradition was moved to Midsummer.

Mathilde Heaton Cooper played a quietly supportive role in the life of Alfred Heaton Cooper, and gave birth to their son, William. The father and son became known as the most famous of the English landscape artists of their respective generations. Her grandson, Julian Cooper, is now Britain’s foremost painter of mountain scenes.