Posted by: Jim E | December 5, 2010

Lutefisk, Lefse and Ring-a-Ding-Ding…”Uff da”, I Said…

Oh, yes it is Christmas time in America…and what comes to mind to a Minnesotan…even a transplanted Minnesotan???…it is all the Christmas traditions of childhood and beyond…and it happens to me…even here in Arkansas…we still have Azalea flowers on our bushes…and it seemed a bit strange for me to be putting Christmas lights on bushes that still are flowering…so it is red, green, blue, yellow lights blinking with pink flowers underneath…quite a sight…and all the while Minnesota has snow and cold…but we do have our “White Christmas” CD playing in the background…maybe that will help…

Christmas traditions…part of ours is to make lefse…every year we make lefse…we learned to make it many years ago in Minnesota…it is wonderful…it is a simple recipe…not simple to make but once you get the “hang of it”, it is…we did it with the whole family…in fact that is the joy of it…the whole crew gets involved…someone mixing the dough…it is made of boiled potatoes (riced potatoes, put through a ricer), flour, melted butter and cream…mixed to the right consistency…someone to roll it out very thin, almost like what a crepe ends up like…and then someone to put on a lefse grill (yes, they have grills just for this, Target, etc. have them)…using “lefse sticks” (yes, there are sticks made just for lefse) you turn it over and then stack it to cool…of course everyone must try some warm…butter, sugar, cinnamon or brown sugar…whatever…it is so good…it is like a flat bread…most cultures have that kind of bread…this one is just a little better than the rest…and everyone gets in on the act…

We have been making lefse for most of 40 years…and it is as loved today as it was years ago…you can eat anything rolled up in it…not only butter and sugar but meat, cheese, just anything you would use bread for…so very soon we will be getting together with the kids and  grandkids and making a huge pile of lefse to be used over the holidays…Christmas Eve with a little pickled herring…and how about Swedish Sausage…Oh wait, that’s another story…ignore my mention of Swedish Sausage…more about that later…But thinking about that…we bought some Swedish sasusage and Swedish meatballs when we were in Minnesota last summer…we have already had one “ring” of Swedish sausage and will have more at Christmas…but also Christmas Eve we will serve lefse and Swedish meatballs…with gravy…so good…all this is traditional food from years gone by…and still served in Minnesota and all over the Upper Midwest…as well as the Pacific Northwest…

But one of the foods we will not be serving (mostly we can’t get it here) is Lutefisk…it is a “lye” cured cod or whitefish from Norway…served with melted butter and cream sauce…I won’t go into “how” it is fixed but let’s say it is important…it is served with lefse, mashed potatoes, white gravy, Swedish meatballs, rutabaga, etc…lutefisk is also served in the Upper Midwest and in the Pacific Northwest, much like lefse…but tastes and smells a whole lot different…Madison, Minnesota claims the dubious title of Lutefisk Capital of the World…they serve and eat more there than anywhere in the world…you can look that up online if you would like and see the huge gatherings of people who come there for their lutefisk suppers during this time of year…

Lutefisk has been on the receiving end of all kinds of jokes…Ole and Lena jokes: We tried the lutefisk trick, putting it under our porch, to get rid of the raccoons living there…but now we’ve got a family of Norwegians living under our house!!!…humorist Garrison Keillor: Lutefisk is a repulsive gelatinous fish-like dish that tastes like soap with an odor that would gag a goat…and it looks like the world’s largest chunk of phlegm…encouraged to eat “just a little” was like vomiting a little, it’s just as bad as a lot…

The jokes and stories go on and on…I have tried lutefisk myself a time or two…probably to say I ate it once…and the next time or so, because good Scandinavians “should” eat it…like it???…nothing ever was mentioned or came to mind that we were suppose to like it!!!…enough cream sauce and melted butter covers a multitude of sins, it was told to me…but for many years WCCO AM radio (in Minneapolis) had a couple of personalities…Boone and Erickson who were very talented…and they did one of their Christmas traditions called “Lutefisk Lament”…I have saved it for the last…it is a poem, of a sort…along with their Scandinavian accent and humor…I hope you will hang on to the end…since some of you are not from the Upper Midwest…the humor may escape you…but open your mind…and think like a Swedish or Norwegian farm kid from rural Minnesota…get in character now…get ready to go on stage…let’s go…click on the link and enjoy Boone and Erickson’s “Lutefisk Lament”…(I will add the words to follow along…not all will be in this version…but you will be able to follow)…Merry Christmas…

Boone and Erickson – Lutefisk Lament

Lutefisk Lament

Charlie Boone & Roger Erickson

‘Twas the night before Christmas with things all a bustle
As Mama got set for the Christmas Eve tussle.
Aunts, uncles and cousins would soon be arriving
With stomachs all ready for Christmas Eve dining.
While I sat alone with a feeling of dread,
As visions of lutefisk danced in my head.
The thought of the smell made my eyeballs start burning.
The thought of the taste set my stomach to churning.
For I’m one of those who good Swedes rebuff:
A Scandahoovian boy who can’t stand the stuff.

Each year, however, I played at the game
to spare mama and papa the undying shame.
I must bear up bravely, I can’t take the risk of relatives knowing I hate lutefisk.
I know they would spurn me, my presents withhold,
if the unthinkable, unspeakable truth they were told.
Then out in the yard I heard such a clatter,
I jumped up to see what was the matter.
There in the snow, all in a jumble,
three of my uncles had taken a tumble.

My aunts, as usual, gave them “what for”,
and soon they were up and through the door.
Then with talk, and more cheer,
an hour was passed as Mama finished the Christmas repast.
From out in the kitchen an odor came stealing,
that fairly set my senses to reeling.
The smell of lutefisk creeped down the hall
and wilted a plant in a pot on the wall.
The others reacted as though they were smitten,
while the aroma laid low my small helpless kitten.
Uncles Oscar and Lars said, “Oh, that smells yummy,”
and Kermit’s eyes glittered while he patted his tummy.

The scent skipped off the ceiling and bounced off the door,
and the bird in the cuckoo clock fell on the floor.
Mama announced dinner by ringing a bell.
They pushed to the table with a yump and a yell.
I lifted my eyes to heaven and sighed,
and a rose on the wallpaper withered and died.
With wooden legs I found my chair
and sat in silence with an unseeing stare.
Most of the food was already in place;
there remained only to fill the lutefisks space.
Then Mama came proudly with a bowl on a trivet.
You would have thought the crown jewels were in it.

She placed it carefully down and took her seat,
and Papa said Grace before we could eat.
It seemed to me, with my whirling head,
the shortest prayer he ever had said.
Then Mama lifted the cover on the steaming dish,
and I was face to face with the quivering fish.
“Me first,” I heard Uncle Kermit call,
while I watched the paint peel off the wall.

The plates were passed for Papa to fill.
I waited in agony between fever and chill.
He would dip in the spoon and hold it up high.
As it oozed on the plates, I thought I would die.
Then came my plate, and to my feverish brain
there seemed enough lutefisk to derail a train.
It looked like a mountain of congealing glue:
oddly transparent, yet discolored, the hue.
With butter and cream sauce I tried to conceal it;
I salted and peppered, but the smell still revealed it.
I drummed up my courage, I tried to be bold.
Mama reminds me, “Eat, before it gets cold.”

I decided to face it, “Uff da,” I sighed.
“Uff da, indeed,” my stomach replied.
Then I summoned that resolve for which every breed is known.
My hand took the fork as with a mind of its own.
And with reckless abandon that lutefisk I ate,
within twenty seconds I’d cleaned my plate.
Uncle Kermit flashed me an ear-to-ear grin,
as butter and cream sauce dripped from his chin.
Then to my great shock, he whispered in my ear:
“I’m sure glad this is over for another year!”

It was then I learned a great and wonderful truth,
that Swedes and Norwegians, from old men to youth,
must each pay their dues to have the great joy
of being known as a good Scandahoovian boy.

And so to you all, as you face the great test:
Happy Christmas to you, and to you all the best.

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Responses

  1. When I read about you putting lights up outside without snow I had to laugh. I can remember when Jay was out around Christmas time one year. He was laughing about how we all put up lights and how it looked all wrong without any snow.

    The Swedish meatballs sound good, but not the Lutefisk.

    ~Cheryl

  2. Hi Jim and Judy. I have been enjoying your writings and thoughts. Of course you know that Lefse is very Norweigen, and that goes for Lutefisk too. 🙂 And being Norweigen I can test to that. Grew up with that being our Christmas Eve tradition always. And the smell made me never want to eat the stuff. I, too, make lefse every year with my daughter and granddaughter. So glad that this tradition is passing along to the next two generations. My granddaughter is very good at it. I make the batters the night before and the girls do the rolling and mixing the next day. My lefse was wonderful always I thought but theirs is even better. 🙂 Love the holidays. We have never had such a beautiful winter scene out of our windows. The snow hanging full on the trees and no wind to take it off.

  3. Hi Jim,

    When, I was very young I asked my mom’s dad on how people “make” Lutefisk. He told me it was a “secret” but told me anyway. He said that years ago they would take the fish outside, and lean it against the wall…so it would “cure” I asked him how it cures outside? He said that dogs would come by and urine on the fish…that’s the secret HAHA

    So, there is going to be no blogs on “hungry boys”, butter cookies, date filled cookies or even the legendary spice cake? I have been eating some date filled cookies for about 2 weeks…then comes the spice cake

    Don’t forget the raspberry jello!

    Do, they have oysters for the stuffing down there?


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