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December 1, 2010

The Talent of Eating Lutefisk

Filed under: Scandinavian Studies — Mary Poggione @ 11:28 am

Lou T. FiskPerhaps because I’m not from Minnesota, I am a bit obsessed by people’s willingness to eat lutefisk in an age when refrigeration is available, and so I was very happy to see this new video posted by MPR about the Norsefest in Madison, Minnesota, Lutefisk Capital of the USA. While I love fish, shellfish, raw fish, oysters, and clams, I have not been able to get myself to try lutefisk.

As one woman preparing the Norsefest meal says in the video,

“A good piece of fish is flakey like when you get really good walleye after it’s been cooked … A bad piece of fish would be if it’s like jelly or, excuse the expression, like snot.”

According to the book Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land by Kathleen Stokker, the widespread eating of lutefisk grew out of Norway’s adherence to Advent fasting, which continued even after Lutheranism was adopted as the official state religion.

Legend  credits the origin of the recipe to the Vikings (from Keeping Christmas):

“Why lye? Legend attributes this to the Vikings. What is no doubt an apocryphal account reports that while raiding a certain fishing village, the Vikings burned down some wooden racks on which cod was drying. When one of the inhabitants poured water over the fire to douse it, the fish was left soaking in a solution of ashes and water–that is, lye. Poking through the ashes days later, villagers noticed that the once dried and hardened fish now appeared fresh. Rinsing and boiling it, they discovered that–at least by some accounts–it was edible.”

One of the highlights of Norsefest is the lutefisk eating contest, also deemed a “talent competition,” which makes perfect sense to me.

You can read more about the Norwegian history of eating lutefisk in this Keeping Christmas excerpt.

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