This weekend I will be attending the Lille Norge Fest. It’s a celebration of Norwegian Lutherans, Lefse and Lutefisk. In case you are unfamiliar with this Norwegian delicacy, let these give you an inkling. Poor lutefisk, that quavering smelly dollop of codfish-flavored Jell-O and today the butt of so many jokes.
Ole and Lena were sitting on the porch and smelled an awful smell. “There must be a skunk under the porch!” exclaimed Lena. “Well,” said Ole, “just throw some lutefisk down there. It’ll be gone in no time.” Lena considers this and says, “Ooo, well, I don’t mind the skunk that much.”
Ole, Sven and Lars die in a tragic Lutefisk dinner accident. They are met by God on the stairway to heaven. God says, “There are 3,000 steps to heaven. It’s very serious up there. I’ll tell you a joke on each 1,000th step you reach. If you laugh you go to hell.” So they start walking and reach to the first 1,000th step. God tells a joke, Lars laughs out loud and goes straight to hell. Ole and Sven look at each other nervously. On the 2,000th step God tells another joke, Sven tries his best but laughs and goes to straight to hell. On the 3,000th step God tells the last and best joke, Ole doesn’t laugh and proceeds to the gate. Suddenly, Ole bursts out laughing hysterically. God asks, “What are you laughing about?”. Ole replies, “Oh that’s funny. I just got the first joke!”.
To be honest, lefse and lutefisk are white and bland and simple. Their humble, long-storing ingredients are the flavor of poverty and survival, of northern climate a with short growing season.
Lefse started out as an unremarkable flour pastry. It’s believed the potatoes—the ingredient that makes this food really special—only became an element when Norwegians traveled to Ireland, where potatoes were a staple and more plentiful and nutritious than flour.
Lutefisk origin stories, on the other hand, are all over the map. Both Norwegians and Swedes claim to have invented it. One legend says some dried cod fell into a vat of lye by accident, but the people were too poor to throw it out, so they rinsed it off and ate it anyway, eventually finding that soaking in lye was better than water at rehydrating the cardboard-like dried fish.
Today, Norwegians across the Dakota Territories eat these foods around the holidays to remember the old ways. Here you can find lutefisk suppers in church and lodge basements every weekend throughout the winter. Wish me luck!