Welcome back to Magnetic North, where that icky white stuff is starting to pile up. No, not snow. We wish! Those of us with skis, snowshoes and septic systems are praying for snow and lots of it real soon.
No, the icky white stuff to which I refer is, to a very select few, a delicacy. Yep, it’s lutefisk. For those of you who have read of my own close encounter with lutefisk years back, well, a good yarn like that never really can be told too often.
And besides, it sort of fits right in with the British holiday tradition of telling scary stories while roasting those chestnuts and steaming that Figgie pudding.
So what’s scary about lutefisk? Well, I found out in the mid-1970s. My daughter and husband and I were brand new members of a big Lutheran church in the cities, a church that staged a major event just about every weekend. And the most major of all those multitude of events was the annual pre-Christmas lutefisk dinner. Of course, I bought tickets. And, since I’d heard that lutefisk, even among Scandinavians, is an acquired taste, I set about acquiring one.
My quest began at the nearest Lund’s grocery store. Hailing a smiling fellow behind the meat and fish counter, I asked brightly, “Where’s the lutefisk?”
His smile vanished. He sighed. Then, pointing to what appeared to be a pile of baggies filled with clear Jell-O, he muttered, “You’ve got more guts than I do. But IT’S over there.”
Hmmmm, probably NOT a Norwegian or a Swede, I thought, choosing the biggest sack of ....what WAS this stuff inside? The package instructions were vague. “Boil bag in water or bake contents until firm. Serve with either butter or cream sauce.”
It was dark when I got home and the colored Christmas lights around the kitchen windows cast a cheery glow on the gelatinous colorless fish flesh inside the two-pound bag. Even so, I was in no mood to foul my oven, so I put a pot of water on to boil and set about melting the butter and setting the table.
“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” I sang out gaily to my husband and daughter, who were cluelessly watching television. It’s amazing how fast nausea can hit a person. For me, it was the second right after I cut open the boiled bag and let the lutefisk slither out and into a metal colander in our sink.
The steam stung my eyes and stopped my breath. Plus, the fishy secretions turned my colander black!
“What’s that smell?” my husband yelled. My daughter merely ran screaming from the room.
“Never mind,” I said, “we’re eating out tonight. Get your coats!”
On the way out the back door, I grabbed the still out-gassing fish in the colander and, before leaping into our car, hurled the whole mess into our Malamute Wooly’s kennel. And did she enjoy it!
When we returned, the car’s headlights shone on the kennel as we pulled in the driveway. Wooly stood inside the fence, tail wagging and a big doggy grin on her muzzle. And why not? For we all know that even more than dogs love to eat, they love to roll in stinky stuff. Yes, the two pounds of lutefisk was stuck in great frozen globs all over my beautiful 100-pound pooch.
My daughter, Gretchen, remembers this last part of our lutefisk adventure best. She, after all, had the heavy duty of leaning hard against our shower stall door while I shampooed the lutefisk off our dog. She tells me that I remained remarkably calm. No swearing. No hollering. Just a few groans and - I swear she is making this up - a sob.
And so....we skipped the big lutefisk dinner. Having acquired nothing more than a lifelong aversion to the stuff. And, eventually, we joined a Presbyterian church. There, the most exotic thing we ever ate was Indian fry bread. For me, though, every year when I see those jiggling bags of goo appear in the market I flash back to THE HORROR of it all.
And that’s why I just can’t resist telling the story over and over and over again.