Advent Calendar, December 3: Foods
Being from a Norwegian-American family, I should be looking forward to the traditional holiday fare of lutefisk and lefse just about now. Lefse, ya sure, bring it on! I love lefse with butter, and sometimes a little sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on.
For those of you not familiar with lutefisk, it is reconstituted cod: long-dried cod brought nearly back to life using lye.
It may be interesting to know that the typical native Norwegian no longer eats this. Then, why in Thor's hammer is it on many Norwegian-American tables at holiday family get-togethers, potlucks, church suppers, and even offered at buffets on ships cruising the North Sea?
It boils down (literally!) to the Viking spirit.
Lutefisk was a poor person's food in Norway, and it was also a source of protein that could be produced no matter what the weather. The method is timeless: catch the cod, dry the cod, store it in a shed, wait copious amounts of time, retrieve as needed, beat off any dust or dirt, soak in lye for several days, boil or bake well, and then serve up with riced potatoes, small cooked frozen peas, and a look of nonchalance.
Because of the longevity of dried fish and the plentiful supply of fish in Norway, lutefisk found its way to many early Norwegian farming tables whenever a little extra something was desired, especially at celebrations. Now that Norwegians are no longer as poor as they used to be, this food is ignored, and even downright shunned in its place of origin.
But, in America, lutefisk is a source of pride. It's a symbol of survivorship - proof that you can't keep a good ole' Ole down.
Ya, ve have da Viking blood coursing tru da veins!
Come harsh weather, near starvation, emigration, poverty and hardship on the prairie, you name it, the lutefisk will go on... and on... and on...
A Norwegian-American saying goes: "... about half the Norwegians who immigrated to America came in order to escape the hated lutefisk, and the other half came to spread the gospel of lutefisk's wonderfulness." 
I remember my mother prepared lutefisk for Christmas one year when I was young. My grandfather, great aunts and uncles, and many other relatives had arrived at our house for dinner. The women chattered off and on in Norwegian, so that the kids couldn't understand all the gossip. The little living Christmas tree in the living room was hung with ornaments, and the plastic Santa and Snowman were glowing in the front window. The dining room table was set beautifully, draped in a white tablecloth decorated with embroidered pointsettias, an evergreen centerpiece, and Mom's best silver laid out next to pearl colored cloth napkins.
|This is one of my family's favorite photos of my "Grampa" (Ernest Johnson), wearing his characteristic flannel shirt and argyle socks. Christmas, early 1960s, in Salem, Oregon.|
Why, the lutefisk even had its own special holiday serving platter. And, resting in the mucky, jiggly, yellowish slush was a beautifully engraved, antique silver serving fork... turned green. It had actually turned green from the lye!
My chin was not much higher than the table, but I remember giving the lutefisk platter the once over, at eye level. After all the excited talk about this "delicacy," I was anxious to try it; that first taste held promise.
But, after spying that green serving fork, I decided that lutefisk wasn't for me. They could disown me as Norwegian offspring, but no morsel of that jiggly stuff was going to get past my sealed lips and turn my insides green. Uh-uh!
And, it never did. But, the lefse... oooohhh, the lefse!