Sometimes love is like lutefisk

Scandinavian legend around the origins of lutefisk states that St. Patrick of Ireland tried to poison the Viking invaders by serving them fish (fisk) after soaking it in lye (lut). But rather than expiring in an agonizing death, the Vikings instead declared lutefisk to be a delicacy. This history is quite a bit suspect, but one way or another, a tradition was born that today extends throughout Scandinavian culture each Christmas holiday—and especially in Lutheran church basements.

One year, when I was a little kid, my father (a Norwegian Lutheran) cooked up some lutefisk during the Christmas holidays. My brother and I each failed to choke down even a small amount, however, and we never saw it again in our house. Even as small children we found it odd that anyone would wish to eat fish soaked in what is essentially drain cleaner.

My taste buds have changed over the years and now each December I force my family to attend the annual lutefisk dinner at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. It was the seasoned white sauce poured over the fish that changed everything for me—that made lutefisk a delicacy for me. But others in my family inevitably leave the lutefisk on their plates and instead eat all of the side dishes around it. At any rate, we work a couple of Scandinavian “Sven and Ole” jokes into the table conversation, and the evening is complete.

Enjoy 1 free Sentinel article or audio program each month, including content from 1898 to today.

Money, freedom, and what really sustains
December 9, 2013

We'd love to hear from you!

Easily submit your testimonies, articles, and poems online.