With a long overdue trip scheduled to return to my hometown in western Wisconsin, I thought that I would share a series of unique cultural tidbits from my roots. For this particular post, I dig back to the age of four, where I was initiated into the Norwegian tradition of lutefisk and lefse belly up to the smorgasbord in Blair, Wisconsin.
With the vast majority of Wisconsinites either of German or Norwegian decent, there is seldom a special occasion, festival, or holiday that doesn’t honor delicacies from those mother cultures. Thus, my family took me on an adventure to the basement of a community church in our neighboring town, where the local Norwegian women were in charge of cooking and serving a lutefisk (looooooot-a-fisk) and lefse (lef-sa) dinner. (My accent comes back quickly.)
Lutefisk is a traditional Nordic fish dish made of dried stockfish then soaked in lye. Yes, you read that correctly, fish soaked in lye, the same stuff that you use to make soap. I can only rationalize that the process has been passed along since the time before modern day refrigerators or ice boxes existed. However, the traditional taste, texture (jelly-like), and smell of the dish have continued; be forewarned, lutefisk is somewhat notorious for its intense offensive odor. Uffda!
Lutefisk is usually served with, but not limited to potatoes, gravy, melted butter, meatballs, and of course lefse. Unlike lutefisk, lefse is really easy to understand. Basically, it is the Norwegian version of a flour or corn tortilla; however, it is made from potatoes. It is most commonly served with butter, but many prefer lefse with a sprinkle of sugar. As an addition, lefse is easy to eat and has been a staple in special shipments from Wisconsin for years to wherever I hang my hat.
Now, little did I know that this adventure would be my first appearance in the press. Yes, the local newspaper caught me in the act. Young with a skeptical palate and the overly fishy smell wafting through the hall, I was caught with an ear to ear grin of enjoyment of my lumberjack’s plateful of mashed potatoes and gravy. (Even to this day, I cannot pass up a plate of good mashed potatoes.)
So, on this trip back to my roots, will I be diving into a lutefisk and lefse dinner? Uffda!