Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thinking lutefisk season already August 20, 2014

IT’S NOT TOO EARLY to start thinking lutefisk and meatballs.

That is if you eat lutefisk, a Norwegian delicacy of cooked cod that has been soaked in lye.

I know. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? I’ve eaten it twice, once when covering a church basement lutefisk dinner as a young newspaper reporter.

The second time I sampled this fish out of respect for my Norwegian aunt whose maiden name is Knudson.

I didn’t like lutefisk either time. Tastes like warm Jell-O. Smothering it with lots of melted butter does help. A bit.

Whether or not I like lutefisk or meatballs matters not, though, because I’m German, not Norwegian. I don’t have to eat the stuff.

Vang Lutheran Church

Vang Lutheran Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But for those of you who appreciate lutefisk, mark your calendars for the Wednesday, October 8, annual Vang Lutheran Church Lutefisk and Norwegian Meatball Supper. Vang is located 10 minutes north of Kenyon or east of Nerstrand with a County 49 Boulevard address. That’s in Minnesota, where, of course, many Scandinavians live.

I photographed Vang Lutheran Church across the cornfield west of the Potpourri Mill Log Cabin 10 minutes north of Kenyon.

Vang Lutheran Church sits among the farm fields of southeastern Minnesota, near Kenyon and Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And these Norskes love their lutefisk so much they’re already advertising the October church dinner in August. I spotted this sign and reminder slips with peppermints last weekend at a garage sale in Kenyon:

I spotted this sign at a garage sale in Kenyon.

I spotted this sign at a garage sale in Kenyon.

Have you eaten lutefisk? What’s your review of this Norwegian culinary specialty?

CLICK HERE TO READ a blog post about Vang’s lutefisk dinner written several years ago by a master of divinity student.

Ā© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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38 Responses to “Thinking lutefisk season already”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    There isn’t enough butter…

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Have never tasted lutefisk but would give it a go if I had the chance. I suspect the meatballs would be more of a draw for me, though. What a wonderful thing to have a heritage so strong that it spans the years and the traditions that go with it stay around.

  3. cecilia Says:

    Not sure whether I would like that either but I love the image of the church i the drying fields.. c

  4. Rena Says:

    I’m 5/8 Cherokee & Creek, and a smidgen of Irish and English – Ludefisk wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary until I married a man from this area, who ate it as a child. It seems the Germans DO have a dish very similar! But I didn’t like that either. I don’t like the smell, look, or taste of Lutefisk, although I like Kimshi and Saurkraut. I grew up on beans, greens, squash, and cornbread flat cakes, with occasional fried trout and venison. When my husband finds a place serving Lutefisk his eyes light up and he savors every bite – I watch in wonder and repulsion, politely asking him to brush his teeth before he gives me that good night kiss!

    • How interesting. Randy never ate lutefisk growing up and tasted it for the first time at my aunt’s house. I’ll have to ask Tom about that next time we see you two, why he got lutefisk and Randy didn’t. Maybe something to do with the age difference b/n the brothers.

      • Rena Says:

        I call Lutefish “Ludicrous” because that’s the frame of mind one must have to gullet that stuff! I just asked Tom, and found I was mistaken! He didn’t eat Lutefish growing up, it was “Pickled Herring.” I really don’t see any difference between the two, as they both are rather repulsive to me, because I like fish fresh, fresh, FRESH! Sorry about the confusion! As for the German dish… That too is a pickled herring with the vinegar, salt and onion and sometimes some sour creme mixed in. Hope this clears up the confusion I caused.

      • Oh, that makes sense now. Of course, pickled herring. Your brother-in-law, my husband, loves pickled herring. My dad did, too, and I liked it also when I was growing up. But my tastes have changed.

  5. I have a lot of Norwegian blood flowing threw my veins but I can honestly say that I have never tried lutefisk. I’ve had plenty of opportunities but….! I’d go for the meatballs any time. Beautiful church.

  6. My heritage is German, Norwegian and Scandinavian. I have a heighten sense of smell and palate and just cannot get past the smell to eat it. I have had Herring and Black Pudding and do not care for that either. I grew up on farms that were organic and nose to tail before it was popular – ha! Thanks for sharing and love going down memory lane of my growing up years šŸ˜‰ Happy Hump Day!

  7. Grew up German and my mother remarried a Norwegian, so I was introduced to it at age 12. along with other delicacies such as head cheese and blood soup.

    My wife’s family is Norwegian, so we have lutefisk every Christmas. I always eat a spoonful.

    We hosted a foreign exchange student from Norway 3 years ago, and she turned up her nose at it. We made her eat just a little bit before we opened Christmas presents.

  8. Jackie Says:

    My dad is full blooded Norwegian, my great grandparents came over on the boat from Norway. Me I’m only 1/2 norske and no, I dont like lutefisk, actually I’ve never even tasted it…. I have never been able to get past the smell, ugh! Luckily my full blooded grandma Erickson made meatballs for us kids šŸ™‚ Will you be attending the event?

  9. Paul Fahning Says:

    Lutefisk dinners at Vang takes me back to my childhood. The smell is not nearly as bad as it used to be. The method for rehydrating has improved. Treat it as a uniquely prepared cod filet – then drown with butter or white sauce and place on boiled potatoes.

    • Well, that’s good to hear, Paul, that the odor has improved. And thanks on the advice on how best to consume.

      I get you have lots of great memories of those Vang lutefisk dinners. Church dinners have a unique way of bringing folks together.

  10. hotlyspiced Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever eaten any Norwegian cuisine and certainly not the cod. I’m quite sure lutefisk is not something for me! I love the church – gorgeous! And how amazing that it has all that land around it. It certainly stands alone xx

  11. I’ve never tried lutefisk, but I’d be willing if someone had a bite for me. Heck, I ate haggis in Scotland. I really like the picture of the church through the corn field. A perfect Midwestern shot.

  12. Thread crazy Says:

    I’ve never tried lutefisk and doubt that I could swallow it if I tried! Guess if we were raised with it that would be different. Who knows, maybe we would like it! HA.

  13. Kristin Says:

    The “warm jello” lutefisk is one that has been cooked too long. (Though one has to eat it in any form when a guest at someone’s house.) The larger metro-area churches have wonderful lutefisk dinners where you are served a recognizable piece of cod (the first sign it is cooked correctly) and a lot of butter (because really, isn’t all food just a vehicle for the real staff of life, butter?)

    Hurray to all of you who gave it a shot! I didn’t grow up with it, but learned to love it because fun friends dragged me to the round to lutefisk dinners that make up Minnesota’s fall social season. Maybe lutefisk is still around because it’s a reason for good people, even those who don’t like the fish, to break bread together.

  14. Julie skogen Says:

    Here’s a great way for you lutefisk beginners. Lay a piece of lefse on your plate. Put a scoop of mashed potatoes on top center. Put a little or a lot of lute on dat. Den pour melted butter over dis. Den I always salt and pepper,( to your liking.) start rolling it up like a burrito. I am sure you will like it… Oh I had to add a little Norwegian in der., I’m full blood. This is how my mom got us to try lutefisk when we were very young for our traditional Christmas Dinner. I’m 61 and only eat it like this. Thanks!


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