Enjoying that mouth-watering delicacy: lutefisk and lefse

Published 6:21 pm Saturday, December 15, 2012

As the days of the calendar inch closer to Christmas it is time to think of my annual fishing trip. This is the trip I will need no boat for as I will be trolling the meat departments of local grocery stores checking out the price of lutefisk.

While the days until Christmas slowly dwindle away the excitement mounts in the anticipation of the feast that lies ahead. I will soon be buying the fish that will serve as the fine cuisine for our traditional Christmas Eve supper.

There is another tradition that my sister Judy and I started a few years ago — lefse making. Although it started out as a rotating location we have been going to her house for the annual lefse making day for the past few years. It has also become a tradition that my wife, Jean, and I host the annual Christmas Eve celebration and supper at our house.

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Preparing the fish has been an annual ritual for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up the fish would be soaked in water for a few days prior to the big day. That process involved changing the water at least once a day. The fish was preserved with lye and shipped to the stores; directly from Norway (no doubt), so the need to soak it was very real. Eventually soaking it was really not necessary but I have found that by soaking it for a couple of days it seems to get flakier when cooked.

Over the years there have been a couple of instances where the fish resembled a bowl of white Jell-O-looking matter rather than the white flaky fish that it should be. That “jiggly” fish makes it less palatable, even to a diehard fish eater like me.

The art of lefse making is also not an exact science but over the years we have become pretty good at it. The idea of a lefse (in our family) is that it is thick enough to hold the fish, some potatoes (optional) and of course a substantial amount of melted butter.

Roll up the sleeves before attempting “the lift” because the butter should run down your arms if done properly. This is what my Dad always said was the proper way to eat this delicacy. A good lefse should have just the right thickness; too thin it falls apart; too thick it resembles a hubcap.

The lutefisk feast has been a part of Christmas for me for as long as I can remember. We’d go to my Grandma Herfindahl’s every Christmas Eve for the feast and of course the opening of gifts. I can remember one Christmas when my grandparents lived in the large house next to the fairgrounds on Bridge Avenue. On a couple of those Christmas Eves Santa visited us and although I wasn’t very old at the time I can still remember thinking that when Santa laughed he sounded an awful lot like Uncle Ben; and by the way where was Uncle Ben?

There were a couple of Christmas seasons that were pretty lean and one in particular has always stuck in my mind. We couldn’t afford the usual nice tree that we would have most years and as it grew closer to Christmas Eve there was still no tree. My mom, as always, had decorated our small house with garland, candles and wreaths and had it looking cozy but we still needed a tree to make it Christmas.

Finally on Christmas Eve Day my dad came home with a tree that he had gotten off the lot at the last minute. It was pretty scraggly looking and because they didn’t think anyone would buy it they gave him a good deal on it. He said it wasn’t the tree that he’d like to have gotten for us but it was a Christmas tree all the same. My mom worked her magic on that tree and to me that was one of the nicest trees that we ever had and the one that I remember the most.

This time of the year you hear of some good Samaritan that does a good deed for someone on Christmas, well there were some mighty nice folks that stepped up and made that Christmas a little better for us. My mother’s cousin Dorothy and her husband Curt took us to the Stables for a chicken dinner with their family. We very seldom went to a restaurant to eat so this was really something special. A couple of days later Santa appeared at the door one evening with presents for my sister, me and our mom and dad. It turned out to be a gentleman named Malcolm Ernest. My mother was a hairdresser and his wife Eve was a customer and she and Malcolm had just made our Christmas a little better with a gesture that will never be forgotten.

Until next time, have very Merry Christmas and remember the true meaning of Christmas and why we celebrate it with family and friends.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers this Christmas season and in the future because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

 Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.