Saturday, November 14, 2015

Experiencing an Authentic Scandinavian Meal


Even though my family hails from Swedish/Finnish roots, the Sons of Norway opens its doors to anyone with Scandinavian heritage, little caring if you're actually Norwegian or not.

Two years ago my family, meaning myself, Caitlin, Mom, and Dad, attended the Lutefisk dinner that they host yearly in November. My grandfather (Mom's dad) always cooked lutefisk for Christmas, but he passed away before Caitlin and I ever met him so we'd never experienced anything like an authentic Scandinavian meal apart from a few Swedish meatballs. It was a lively and glorious experience, all except for the lutefisk itself.

What is lutefisk exactly?

Lutefisk is dried whitefish (normally cod, but ling is also used) treated with lye. It is then either baked (how my grandfather apparently prepared it) or boiled (how the cooks at Sons of Norway prepare it).

Let me just say that lutefisk with lye is pretty gross. It is gelatinous, wobbling on its platter as its brought to the table, and just all around nasty.  Then again I'm what . . . 4th generation Swedish American? I didn't grow up eating it so naturally it seems weird.

Your next question is probably, why would you ever want to go back?

I love tradition. I love being around people of a similar heritage and customs to my own, who know what I'm talking about when I mention a Dala Horse or a Tomte and can appreciate the deliciousness of adding cardamom to bread.

So while my father is salmon fishing in Oregon (because the last lutefisk dinner was waaaaaaaay more than enough for him), we (Mom, Caitlin, and I) reserved space at this year's Lutefisk Dinner for this afternoon.

It was heavenly!

They serve you potatoes boiled to perfection, cooked carrots, nutmeg flavored meatballs and loads of gravy, all with a generous helping of Lingonberry jam, and then the lefse (which is a Norwegian bread, kind of a cross between a crepe and a tortilla). Everything was so tasty, perfectly cooked. And then they brought out the lutefisk. I'd already promised one of the cooks that I would eat the lutefisk so I was mentally preparing myself for the challenge, only to find they'd left out the lye this year, leaving a fairly palatable fish. Especially if you smother it in white sauce and maybe even some of the gravy from the meatballs.



 What you see in the above photo is the remains of Lingonberry jam, a bowl nearly emptied of its meatballs and gravy, and a huge platter of Lutefisk. I know, I know, it hardly looks appetizing, but I am being 100% honest when I say that I actually liked it this year. I don't know if its partially because I'm eating something my grandfather ate, or simply because they left out the lye (YUCK!), but it was quite tasty. And I have every intention of returning next year.

Because you see, this Lutefisk Dinner with the Sons of Norway is about so much more than merely eating a meal. It's about reconnecting to heritage, to traditional ways, to your ancestors. My great grandparents on both sides of my family migrated from Sweden and Finland respectively. I'm American. And while I love being American and all the privileges that entails, I also want to learn as much as I can about my Scandinavian roots. I have every reason to be proud of them, and if it means I attend a Lutefisk Dinner once a year to socialize with others from Scandinavia, then that's what I'll do.


This dear lady was in traditional Norwegian garb and I truly wish we'd gotten a photo of her from the back too because the back of the dress is just as beautiful as the front. My sister specializes in ancestral garb and so she was just as fascinated as I was by this gorgeous gown.


And finally, the desert. Oh my goodness, you've never tasted anything until you've had Risengrynsgrøt, a Norwegian pudding made from cream and short grain white rice. Ours was liberally doused in Lingonberry syrup. Let me tell you, I am sooooooo making this during the holiday season. I love rice pudding anyway, but my taste buds had never experienced anything as creamy and delectable as this yummy pudding.

I'm really sharing this experience with all of you so you'll remember to celebrate your heritage! Don't lose the traditions that have been in your family for generations. I don't know your background, but this dinner, its food and customs, is a part of mine. And I love it. Every single part of it!

This year my family has pretty much decided to celebrate a more Swedish Christmas. So as we make or buy decorations, try new recipes, learn new traditions, I'll share some of them on here with you. As an encouragement for you to connect to your roots, and may you love celebrating your heritage as much as I love celebrating mine!

6 comments:

  1. Glad you had fun.

    Yeah... my heritage is English. I don't wanna eat that food. ;)

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    1. Awww, come now. There must be some cuisine in England worth eating, or maybe in Wales. I know that goose was once all the rage in England and I have to wonder how that tastes.

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  2. That sounds really neat to attend. Glad this year's meal was so delicious! I'm afraid I don't think I'd eat most of that, although the ligonberry jam sounds yummy! LOL! My heritage is mostly Italian, but my family has no holiday food traditions based on that. Hm, actually we have no holiday food traditions at all. Interesting.

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    1. It was a very fun experience. The best part is always the meatballs seasoned with Nutmeg (YUM!) and the lefse, which I love spread with a little butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and then a spoonful of jam and rolled up. So tasty.

      It might be interesting to research what types of food Italian families eat around the holidays and give some of them a try. Some of my family's Swedish traditions and interests simply happened because my sister, (a history major btw) researched our heritage and urged us to give the food or the tradition a try. It worked!

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  3. Our college hosted a Lutefisk Dinner every year because it had Norwegian roots (it's in Minnesota). I never tried it, because the concept of "fish jello" just kind of... no. So I think you're brave! We students called Lutefisk Dinner night "Mandatory Date Night" because if you had any way at all to get off campus and not have to breathe that fish stench, you did it.

    As for Christmas traditions, I'm very big on them. We make Dutch Christmas cookies called Krakling most years, and some German foods too (I'm half Dutch, half German).

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    1. Yaaaaah, lutefisk is an experience. I go for the fellowship and the meatballs more than anything else. Such lovely people are members of the Sons of Norway.

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