Trolling for lutefisk and other delicaciesPublished 7:10am Monday, December 19, 2011
The days of feasting are finally upon us and I have been checking out the price of lutefisk, herring and oysters in the local grocery stores like an old fisherman trolling the shoreline for pike. It seems that price is usually no object when it comes to putting these holiday delicacies on the table.
In our family, we usually have it traditionally every Christmas Eve, just like when I was a kid. I am the one that gets to reap the benefits of the leftovers on Christmas Day. Our family doesn’t eat it in great quantities, but I have convinced some of the grandkids to eat a little “token” fish.
When I was a kid it was considered a coming-of-age ritual when you were brave enough to take the first bite of that tasty morsel we call lutefisk. Like every other thing we do, it is not easy to simply call it by its proper name, but once you’ve mastered the art of eating it you can now call it “fish” as if it were walleye or something.
I have written before about the first Christmas Eve that I tasted the fish and how it made me feel like I had grown to adulthood with that first bite. My uncles Ben and Oliver would be seated at the table along with my dad and my mom, aunts and my grandma. This was the day of reckoning, and I’m sure that’s what they were talking about when they were speaking Norwegian amongst themselves. That first bite came with a few instructions from the grownups.
“Roll up your sleeves” they piped. “Put potatoes and fish on the lefse, smother it in butter, salt and pepper and then roll it up and pick it up in a plate to mouth motion.”
Picking up a loaded lefse was a true test of how good the lefse had been made because if it could hold the fish and all the rest of the fixings then it was a good batch. My dad always said the only way to eat the fish was to roll it, pick it up and let the melted butter run down your arm, hence the sleeve rolling instructions. These were all fine instructions to follow and looking back it almost makes my mouth water in anticipation of that magical night that lies ahead.
We always had to attend Christmas Eve on both my mom and dad’s side in the same night. I think that it was a stubborn Norwegian thing that neither side would change their tradition. It always started on my dad’s side and then we’d get to mom’s side at the farm just in time for all the goodies and to open presents. I can still hear my aunt Millie saying “just what I wanted” no matter what she got. Then, of course, there was the Tom Moore Root Beer, ginger ale and orange soda in big bottles. For a kid that only occasionally got to indulge in soda pop, it was a dream night with that almost unlimited supply of soda and baked sweets.
After my wife and I were married we would spend Christmas Eve with my folks and Christmas Day on her folks’ side, where the traditional lutefisk was served for the noon meal and we enjoyed it to the fullest. Orv, my father-in-law, would like to start the lutefisk season on Thanksgiving and carry it over until the New Years. Although I enjoyed the fish a lot, it could get to the point of being too much of a good thing. Once the new year was upon us it was time to put it to rest for another year.
In trying to carry on the family tradition I have been able to convince all of the grandsons to at least try eating it. They have all indulged to a certain extent and a couple of them are definitely eating like true Norwegians. It’s nice to see that the tradition may be carried on with our future generations. My son Brian, however, has not shown that true sense of adventure that it takes to dig in to his Norwegian heritage.
Passing on a tradition like eating lutefisk is not quite the same as passing on that love for the outdoors. I have to say that both of my sons have passed that on to their boys. It makes me feel good to see them enjoy fishing and hunting the way that they do. These are great sports and without sharing those with our youth of today those sports may indeed be lost. It only takes a small amount of time to introduce a kid to fishing and of course hunting takes a little more training and is also a little more costly than a hook, line and sinker, but definitely worth the price.
Sharing a family tradition and starting a new one of your own can be very rewarding. I was always proud of that day when I could belly up to the adult table at Christmas time for a taste of that magical fish. This can be said of any tradition that a youth gets to enjoy for the first time. Catching that first fish is huge, hunting waterfowl for the first time or going to your first deer camp are all exciting times for a youth and something that they can cherish all of their lives.
I see that there were a few adventurous fishermen on the channel last week. I guess that must be some mighty tasty fish to make them want to venture out on that thin, fresh ice. I still believe that waiting until the ice is at least 4-inches thick only makes sense. The rain that we received in the middle of the week could create pockets of thin ice mixed in with the thicker stuff so use caution when you do venture out on it.
Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers during the holidays and the coming year. They are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.