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December 19, 2011 |
I met a woman named Betsy, Swedish-American ancestry, from around Chisago, MN, who told me that, as a 17 year old, while working at a nursing home, she was "forced" to fix the lutefisk (the other staff were off that day). She had never fixed lutefisk before but tried her best. The nursing home residents voiced their displeasure, saying she had ruined the lutefisk. My question to you is whether it is possible to ruin lutefisk?
Lutefisk is a delicacy that is cherished by a dwindling population of old Swedes and Norwegians around Christmastime, dried cod soaked in lye that must be carefully washed (many times) and then properly cooked, eaten (by Swedes) with a white sauce and (by Norwegians) with melted butter. It is peasant food, a staple among the immigrants, that is eaten by fewer and fewer people in Norway but still is cherished by old Scandinavians for whom it has sentimental associations with the blessed holiday. People joke about it because it does, in its raw state, reek of lye, and it will stain silver, and the odor will linger in your kitchen, but if it is prepared properly, it does not need to be pungent, as I described it long ago in Lake Wobegon Days:
"Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I'd be told, "Just have a little." Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot."
The answer to your question, Mark, is Yes. But lutefisk does not need to be an issue. The big lutefisk dinners in Minnesota always serve Swedish meatballs as an alternative entree and nobody is going to put a gun to your head and force you to eat the "repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish". It is an acquired taste, like sweetbreads, or Baroque music on period instruments, or Morris dancing, or Melville's Moby Dick, and here in America you find small pockets of enthusiasts surrounded by large populations of the indifferent and dismissive. It's a great country.