Love it or leave it, lutefisk lives on

Love it or leave it, lutefisk lives on
It's that time of year when most journalists in the Scandinavian hinterlands write about lutefisk – and I'm about to continue the tradition.

It's as much a part of the Norwegian Christmas as Yingle Bells; so in honor of Phyllis � a loyal daughter of Nordic heritage � I'll devote this column to the gelatinous delicacy (my word, not hers because she hates the stuff).

I'll start by telling you one story about how it came about.

"Lutefisk was discovered quite by accident around the year 987 A.D. That's when a Viking returned home with a codfish he had caught in a nearby fjord.

"His wife became incensed because he insisted that she clean the fish and cook it for supper. In her anger, she threw the cod into a vat of soap she was making, which naturally contained a large concentration of lye.

"She pulled it out, served it to the Viking and said squeamishly: ?Here, now eat it!' "

And, thus, lutefisk was born!

There's a sequel to that tale, though.

It seems the Viking took that odoriferous fish (he didn't eat it; he preferred meatballs instead) and hid it in the bow of his ship. When the vessel went to sea, the crew couldn't stand the smell and rushed to the rear of the boat, causing it to capsize and sink.

That was the beginning of a long list of bad jokes about lutefisk. After all, anything meant to be eaten that requires it to be prepared by ingredients to make soap or to open clogged drains deserves to bear the brunt of lousy quips.

According to Jeffrey Steingarten in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, "Lutefisk is not a food. It is a weapon of mass destruction."

He said it was Norway's attempt to conquer the universe. When they discovered that Viking raids didn't give them world supremacy, they invented a recipe so terrifying, so cruel, that they would scare people into submission.

Of course, the stories are endless � and most of them are untrue or figments of wild imagination. Despite the bad publicity, however, I LIKE the jellied fish; and I've pleaded, unsuccessfully, to have a lutefisk feed in our home for the Christmas season.

Once again Phyllis countered by saying somewhat forcefully: "I'm not going to have my kitchen smelling like a fishwive's laundry room just to satisfy some silly whim of yours."

So, unless I go to a Lutheran church supper somewhere, I won't get lutefisk again this year.

Actually the codfish fare is a lot like black olives. You have to develop a taste for it. In my case it's just an excuse to eat a lot of melted butter (but I'm giving away my secret for liking it).

But, true to my word, I have written my seasonal column about lutefisk. Not once have I told an Ole and Lena story with a stinky fish theme. It's just not Christmasy enough!

� 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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