Friday, November 11, 2016

Something's Fishy...

It was a Christmas eve just like every other one in our family, except it was the first Christmas dinner I remember sitting  up at the table with the rest of my cousins, most of whom were a year or two or three older than I.  We little cherubs were all dressed in our holiday outfits, and my cousins Bobby and Brian were running their fingers through the candle flames and singing the naughty versions of Christmas carols while the adults were visiting.  Grandma was in the kitchen, stirring the rice pudding and keeping the tray of lefse and krumkake filled.

Photo courtesy of Jonathunder
But soon Grandma came out of the kitchen to see who wanted lutefisk.  One by one, she worked her way around the kids’ table and got everything from a polite “No, thank you,” to noses wrinkled up at the mere thought of it.  I had no idea what this lutefisk stuff was, but if my cousins didn’t want it, neither did I.  As she made her way closer and closer to me, I began to get a guilty conscience.  I wasn’t sure if she was getting her feelings hurt, or if she was genuinely perturbed at this sorry bunch of little Norwegians before her.  As she got closer to me, a sick feeling grew in the pit of my stomach.  Finally, she said, “Karen, do you want lutefisk?”  Silence.  I looked around the table, and all eyes seemed to be on me as the silence grew.  I looked over at my cousin Brian, whose face was still contorted at the mere thought of it.  I looked up at Grandma, gulped hard, and said, “Yes,” but it must have been a tiny, quiet little “yes.”  Again, she asked if I wanted lutefisk.  I looked around the table and my cousins were all wide-eyed and slack-jawed, waiting for me to actually repeat it.  “Yes,” I said a little louder.  She called me a Good Little Norwegian and went off to the kitchen to fetch the lutefisk, whatever that was.
My Grandma Lisa
The next thing I remember was a lovely gold plate with a wiggly, slippery looking parcel on it, being placed in front of me.  Grandma took a big ladle of melted butter and poured it over the top of the aromatic heap.  Every time I looked at that thing on the plate, it seemed to get bigger.  Grandma gave me another small word of encouragement about being a Good Little Norwegian, so I coaxed a jiggly piece of it onto my fork and struggled to keep it there.   I felt everyone in the room was watching me as I put the fork to my mouth, although I’m sure they probably weren’t.  The texture was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I noticed the slab of lutefisk on my plate suddenly looked huge.  Again, I gulped hard.  “Put some salt on it,” Brian mercifully whispered.

My delighted grandma reappeared from the kitchen and asked how I liked it.  Apparently I did not look as green as I felt.  “Good,” I recall saying, although nothing could be further from the truth.

Thank goodness for salt.

Eventually that lutefisk thing on my plate was gone and the taste (and memory) was replaced by the other delicious Norwegian goodies she served.  And after that night I didn’t give lutefisk another thought.

Until the next Christmas eve.

The cousins took their places at the table, running their fingers through the candle flames and singing naughty versions of Christmas carols.  And Grandma said, “Who besides Karen wants lutefisk?”

And so it went every Christmas eve while we were blessed enough to have Grandma with us.  And every year, eating the lutefisk was less and less of a chore.  I actually developed such a taste for it that I cooked and ate it voluntary a few years after my grandma had passed away.

This year, I’m going to serve it to my granddaughters.  They’ll hate it, but that won’t stop me.  Perhaps with a little persistence and a good old fashioned guilt trip, one of them might someday decide she likes it.


Lutefisk photo attribution:
By Jonathunder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons