COUNTY AGENT GUY
My wife and I have been happily married for more than 31 years. There have been a few minor bumps along the road, but they all pale when compared to the trouble caused by a particular fish.
The incident occurred many moons ago. I came home one day with a fish I had purchased, an ichthyoid of indeterminate age and origin.
Two things regarding this fish were indisputable: it had been caught several months before and it had spent a good amount of time submerged in a caustic liquid.
My wife saw me coming with my questionable cargo and met me at the door with an ultimatum.
“You can’t bring that stinky thing in here,” she said. “Make your choice. It’s either me or the lutefisk.”
OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But it highlights the difficulties which can arise from having a mixed marriage, that is, a union involving a person who sees a hunk of lutefisk and thinks “call the hazmat crew” and a guy who smells cooking lutefisk and thinks, “Yum.”
Being an exceedingly nice person, my wife attempted to assuage my lutefisk lust by purchasing a lutefisk TV dinner.
Her only request was that I cook and eat it sometime when she wasn’t home.
But the microwave TV dinner proved awful to the point of being inedible. Even so, I managed to power through it.
“How,” asked my wife, “can you tell the difference between good lutefisk and bad lutefisk?”
“It’s just one of those instinctual things. The nose somehow knows.”
My mom and I are the only two in our family who like lutefisk. I need a lutefisk fix at least once a year, so I’ll buy some when it comes into season and take it to her house. She cooks it up and we stuff ourselves silly with boiled cod and mashed potatoes.
I recently stumbled across a newspaper ad for a lutefisk feed at Lake Campbell Lutheran Church. Why not give Mom a break? Sign us up.
We arrived about 20 minutes before the 4:30 p.m. seating and the church was already nearly full.
I heard somebody say, only half in jest, that a few overeager lutefisk aficionados were there at 3 o’clock.
I wore my Viking World Tour T-shirt. Its front features an artsy rendition of a Viking horde, while the back lists the dates and the countries that my fearsome seafaring ancestors, um, visited.
The lengthy list begins with England and Wales in 793 and ends with America in 1000.
Lutefisk was no doubt a driving force behind the Vikings’ numerous successes. It’s easy to imagine the hapless defenders recoiling in horror after one whiff of the invaders’ overpoweringly fishy breath.
At Lake Campbell Lutheran, the air was filled with the buzz of conversation and the succulent aroma of cooking lutefisk. These things combined to stir up warm and wonderful feelings from the unfathomable recesses of my brain.
I visited with the kitchen volunteers and learned that about 225 pounds of lutefisk would be consumed that evening, along with more than 700 rounds of lefse. Not bad for a tiny church out in the middle of nowhere.
Seating was family style. Mom and I wound up at a table with some ladies who had driven 30 miles for the lutefisk feed. Rumor had it that others had traveled as far as 60 miles.
I asked the ladies how it was that a fish that had been soaked in lye could lure them from their warm homes on such a damp and gloomy November evening. They all replied that partaking of a lutefisk supper reminded them of their childhoods and the holiday gatherings held at the homes of their grandparents.
A lady seated to my right mentioned that she had visited Norway. I asked her how the lutefisk had been and she replied that they don’t eat the stuff over there. I was appalled to learn that those living in our ancestral homeland had gone soft regarding the tradition of consuming chemically softened fish.
Across the table from us sat a lady named Joanne. As we pillaged the boiled cod and plundered the church’s supply of melted butter, Joanne waxed eloquent about the nuances of proper lutefisk preparation.
“My husband, Herb, knew the secret to cooking lutefisk,” she said. “He would cook it for the all feeds our Ladies Auxiliary held, and of course, he cooked it for us at home.”
I asked Joanne if she had divined Herb’s secret and if she would kindly share it with us.
“The secret is here,” she replied, gesturing at the roomful of happy diners. “It’s the company. It’s being with people you enjoy.”
And let’s have another look at that plate of lefse.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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