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The Last Windrow: No more wisecracks about lutefisk

In 2014, the Brainerd Dispatch staff was challenged to eat lutefisk by the staff of the Bemidji Pioneer (another Forum Communications newspaper) or donate money to charity. These are a couple of the adventurous Dispatch employees who gave it a try - and their reactions. Brainerd Dispatch file photo.

I am not going to make any smart remarks about the annual tradition that permeates the air through the north country, that being our annual lutefisk dinner.

I did a column many years ago, when I was young and dumb, making light of this fish dish from the fjords of the North Sea. Not having been reared in a Scandinavian rich environment, I really knew nothing about how important this dish was to the local residents.

I didn't realize that hundreds of lutefisk eaters descend on church basements every year to celebrate a part of their heritage. One should never comment on something they know nothing about.

After my column reached the paper, I was somewhat shunned in my adopted community. One waitress at my favorite cafe actually poured me a cold cup of coffee. She was also not as friendly as she usually was.

I asked her if I'd done anything wrong. She responded, "Your column in the paper about lutefisk wasn't really very funny!"

I came face to face with the consequences that column writers confront when they make fun of something the locals take pride in. I've never forgotten that cold cup of coffee and that snarl from one of my favorite waitresses.

That experience got me to thinking that no one ever wrote a funny column about the Bohemian dinners I experienced as a kid and young adult. No one ever mocked our love of garlic-laced hard liver dumplings or or our adoration of the hard potato dumpling smothered in caraway seed gravy.

No columns were written making fun of blood sausage or pickled chicken feet. We of Bohemian heritage love nothing better than deep fried chicken gizzards, livers and hearts. If some stupid writer were to so much as make a smart remark about any of those dishes, we could come to blows.

I had to train my wife to like my Czech favorites. She at first turned her nose up when she entered my mother's kitchen and caught the first waft of liver dumplings simmering on the stove top.

I watched as she delicately speared one of the dumplings and found out that she had to cut it with a sharp knife to make it bite size. She is a true trooper and managed to down one or two of the golf ball sized objects before putting her spoon down beside her bowl.

It wasn't much different when my wife ushered me downstairs of the church to my first lutefisk dinner. The aroma struck me in the face and it was with some difficulty that I loaded my fork with that first mouthful of "fish," as the locals refer to this cod fish.

My plate was not clean as I rose to leave the dinner that night, but over the years I have developed a liking for this ethnic dish and now I actually look forward to the annual affair.

Some tell me that lutefisk dinners are becoming more and more difficult to continue. It would seem that the younger generations don't share the same tastes of their older relatives. They're more into the fast food and sports bar environment.

That's too bad. Watching the church folk work together to put on these feasts is heartening to say the least. It's hard work and it takes a lot of time to produce sheets of lefse and peel rutabagas. It takes a special chef to cook the fish "just right."

We've got one in our town named Erv. It takes a roomful of volunteers from senior citizens to kids to serve the hungry crowd. It would be sad to see lutefisk dinners pass into the sunset.

So, this weekend I will be attending one more lutefisk dinner. I will no longer make wisecracks like using it for wallpaper paste or greasing wagon wheels.

No, I'll be there at the table with my Scandinavian friends, forks in hand downing my share of this delicacy.

Please pass the fish and the melted butter! Uffda!!

See you next time. Okay?

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