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The Great Lutefisk Challenge

“Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat,” wrote Garrison Keillor in his book Lake Wobegon Days.

It’s said that lutefisk, which is type of whitefish typically cod, is dried until it feels like leather with “the firmness of corrugated cardboard” and is soaked in lye because water alone can’t reconstitute it.

I may be of Norwegian descent but lutefisk was never a part of our Christmas dinner because my mother, thank God, is a full-blooded German.



I did have an opportunity to eat lutefisk once during what we called The Great Lutefisk Challenge when I worked as a reporter and columnist for the Grand Forks Herald. We had just hired a bunch of young, curious journalists and they wanted to try lutefisk. So we grabbed a videographer and gathered at the local VFW.

The white plate, white fish and white mashed potatoes wasn’t appetizing in the least (see photo). And I wondered why there were no meatballs and lefse, like I had heard about at church lutefisk dinners.



When my plate was delivered I was ready to try it. Then I touched it with my fork and decided it just wasn’t for me. Although it is fish, it doesn’t have any resemblance to fish. It is like white jelly and even when it’s dipped in butter, still isn’t appetizing.

Only one of the about 10 people at the VFW actually ate the lutefisk and claimed that it was tasty. The rest of us sent it all back to the kitchen.

My husband always brought a blob lutefisk for his mother on Christmas day and although he says it is good, I’ve never seen him actually eat it. And, I’m pretty sure his mother probably threw it in the trash after we left.

“Most lutefisk is not edible by normal people. It is reminiscent of the afterbirth of a dog or the world’s largest chunk of phlegm,” from Garrison Keillor’s book Pontoon.

Is it any wonder that lutefisk is the subject of many jokes, like the one where a couple were trying to get rid of the raccoons living under their home, “Well, we tried the lutefisk trick and the raccoons went away, but now we’ve got a family of Norwegians living under our house!”

For those of you who eat lutefisk on Christmas, I bow to you, for I am not that brave.

 


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