Fall is lutefisk time in the Midwest. Lutefisk is dried cod that has been rehydrated in a lye solution and then boiled or baked. The finished fish, served with butter, salt, and pepper, has the consistency and jiggly-ness of Jell-O. Needless to say, it’s an acquired taste.
Every fall, churches throughout the Upper Midwest hold special lutefisk dinners where Norwegian – Americans (though not exclusively – these dinners attract a wide fan base) get in touch with their heritage. In some families, lutefisk even takes the place of the holiday turkey. Fortunately, most of these dinners also include meatballs, mashed potatoes, lefse (the best part if you ask me), and salad for the lutefisk averse.
Norwegians probably didn’t invent lutefisk but they certainly have a long history of making and eating it. Various stories and legends tell of Vikings Salting and drying fish was an efficient way to preserve food, and many Scandinavians brought their lutefisk with them to America when they emigrated.
Today, nostalgia plays a big role in the annual lutefisk dinner. More lutefisk is probably eaten in Wisconsin and Minnesota than in Scandinavia where most people have moved on from the gelatinous fish. But it plays an important role in Midwestern culture, both as an emblem and connection to a past shared by many of this region’s first European immigrants and as a social and community event.
I know I’ll be there.