According to some recent stories, lutefisk dinners are fading in popularity. Yet, we’ll never see the headline “Minnesota Braces for Lutefisk Shortage,” will we?
Perhaps you might read “Lutefisk Shortage Leaves Some Lutherans Emotionally Undemonstrative.” But a surplus would have the same effect.
Let’s remind ourselves what lutefisk is. Most recipes involve cod soaked in lye, but there are alternatives:
A) Sunfish soaked in turpentine.
B) Crappies soaked in Listerine.
C) Fish sticks soaked in bleach.
After choosing one of them, what’s the next step?
A) Bury it under a full moon.
B) Wrap it in oilcloth, mail it to someone you hate.
C) Shove it in a shotgun and blast it into the branches of a birch tree.
D) Drape it on the porch as bear repellent.
I have nothing against lutefisk. I’m sure it’s OK with salt and pepper, but so is a boiled newspaper.
It’s the “soaked in lye” part that gives pause. It’s hard to get past the thought that lye is commonly used in drain de-cloggers and oven cleaners.
I’m all for repurposing, but there’s a limit. “Save some of the dinner droppings, Mom, we’ve got a pipe full of hair that needs fixing.”
Yes, yes, I know: It’s a matter of taste, especially if “taste” is something you like your food to have. There are deep cultural roots for lutefisk. When I grew up, the church out in the country had lutefisk dinners, complete with spicy foods such as radishes — the Devil’s Berries! — to add some flavor. If you’re going full Norsky-Svensky Juleboard, you have to have it.
I think many of us defend lutefisk’s existence because it’s our grub. We don’t have many signature ethnic dishes. Why lutefisk is the defining food, while delicious, perfect, exquisite lefse isn’t — well, that’s bad marketing. Then again, the other day our church had a lutefisk dinner, which produced one of the most Minnesotan things I’ve seen lately: police in yellow vests directing traffic because there were so many people coming for lutefisk. Streets backed up for blocks.
Why? Because it’s so dang good? Because it’s a tradition? No. I’m pretty sure they locked the doors, and rolled out buffet tables loaded with tacos, curry, spaghetti, and all the things people like to eat.
We wouldn’t be sad if no one ate lutefisk anymore.
But possibly — just possibly — we’d be disappointed if the rest of the world thought we didn’t.