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Norwegians celebrate their lutefisk heritage

  • Anne Marie Winterhalder spoons butter over a serving of lutefisk as she prepares for the Sons of Norway Lutefisk and Meatball Dinner at Norway Hall in Santa Rosa. (CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

“We're the butt of many jokes,” admits Anne-Marie Winterhalder, as she describes preparations for the annual Sons of Norway Freya Lodge Lutefisk and Meatball Dinner.

One of her favorites goes like this: “There's this couple who had a real problem with skunks living underneath their porch. The guy tried everything to get rid of them and nothing worked. So their neighbors said, 'Try some lutefisk. That will for sure scare them away.' The next day, the neighbor asked how it worked and the guy said, 'Well it got rid of the skunks, but now I have a problem with Norwegians living under the porch.'”

She laughs at the punchline, but this Saturday, the Norwegian native will polish off a heaping plate of lutefisk — the centuries-old Norwegian cod, cured with lye then reconstituted and baked, often to a rarefied gelatinous state, and nourished back to life with ample amounts of butter and bacon.

Despite the never-ending ribbing, every year Santa Rosa's Sons of Norway Freya Lodge plows through at least 50 pounds of lutefisk (pronounced “LOO-tuh-fisk”) at one of their biggest fundraisers of the year.

“It's a dish that has to grow on you,” Winterhalder says. “But it's a huge Norwegian tradition.”

A tradition immortalized in songs like this:

“O Lutefisk, O Lutefisk, how fragrant your aroma,

O Lutefisk, O Lutefisk, you put me in a coma.

You smell so strong, you look like glue,

You taste just like an overshoe,

But lutefisk, come Saturday,

I tink I eat you anyvay.”

It's a tradition that “Prairie Home Companion” and “Lake Wobegon” author Garrison Keillor has compared to “desiccated cadavers of squirrels” or “the afterbirth of a dog” or simply “the world's largest chunk of phlegm.”

Sitting around a table at the Sons of Norway Freya Lodge in Santa Rosa, Anne-Marie Winterhalder is joined by fellow members Marit Barca and Karen Larson, who are all looking forward to this year's feast.

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