Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Joy of Lefse

Oscar has a strong Norwegian background.
One of the oddities of the world is that some traditional Norwegian foods are more celebrated and loved here in the US than back in Norway. I guess that isn't such a surprise when you consider the descendants of the immigrants who moved here are fairly close in number to those who still live in Norway.
Add to that, the folks who came here were much more likely to be of agricultural background, people who knew the value of nutritional food that could be made inexpensively and keep for a while. In fact, the only place that still makes lutefisk the old way is in Minnesota, and most lutefisk is imported to Norway from the US rather than the other way around. When you consider lutefisk is, to put it kindly an acquired taste (what's not to like about salt cod soaked in lye?) it is not surprising it isn't that popular back in the old country. As a non-Norwegian observer, it seems eating lutefisk might be a way to show how very tough and durable a person is.
They still eat it especially during the holidays in places where many Norwegians settled. It is commonly served with potatoes and plenty of butter (the butter is said to help it slide down the gullet more easily).
I haven't tried lutefisk, and thank goodness Oscar is not a big fan of it either.
The Norwegian traditional food that really warms Oscar's heart is Lefse.
He has even learned to make it in the traditional way and written a tutorial still available online.
(When the Minnesota state fair had a lefse competition, the now-traditional way of making it with instant potatoes won hands down. Perhaps the dehydrated potatoes have a more concentrated flavor?)
While you are there, check out more of Martin's magazine, particularly the Norwegian recipe section.
Anyway, the reason I am writing about lefse is that when the mail arrived today, it contained a huge envelope from Hanska, Minnesota stuffed full of packages of lefse, enough to put back in the freezer to have some at Yule, and some to enjoy right now. His mom Liz ordered it shipped as an early holiday gift just before she left for Florida this winter. You should have seen Oscar's face glow when he opened it up, and his excitement as he made a small plate of the buttered and rolled-up quarters. I must admit I enjoy a piece or two myself, but I make sure to tell Oscar it is his. I am lucky that he wants to share it with me on occasion :-} If it were lutefisk, it would be 100% his, all the time (and I'd likely ask him to eat it outside).
(photo is of Oscar wearing the Equalizer Hat)


LynnM said...

I can't exactly recall all the fish during my time in Sweden but I do believe there was one occasion (winter) when the fish simply "dissolved" and my host mother showed me a pot of boiling water where the fish SHOULD have been. The other was surstromming which was eaten in summer and opened out of doors!

This time of year I like pickled herring. My dad also enjoys it, as does my daughter, which reminds me I must email him and tell him to get some for her visit!

Thanks for the Norwegian recipes link.

Anonymous said...

Ya, I like my lefse. Lutefisk, on the other hand, I can do without.

The old joke says that you take the dried cod, nail it to a section of 2x4 (pine), soak it in lye for a couple of months, then take the fish off of the board, throw it away, and eat the 2x4.

My favorite Lutefisk moment is from the Johnny Carson show. One of his guests brought him a small plate of lutefisk with a silver fork. Once he took a bite out of the Lutefisk, his face was priceless... THEN he saw that the fork had tarnished instantly.

Lutefisk starts out as cod, gets salted and dried into something called Boardfish (It is said that you can use it to pound nails into Pine), then stored until a few weeks before consumption. Then, you get a barrel, fill it full of boardfish and lye until the boardfish is reconstituted, if you can call it that. At this point eating the fish is as toxic as putting Lye based drain cleaner in your mouth. Then, you exchange the lye water for fresh water once a day until the fish is no longer toxic.

My favorite 2 ways to prepare lutefisk vary only slightly from each other: Either you find an outbuilding that you want to run the squatters out from, or you find a very open area downwind from the rest of your land. Set up a burner or stove of some kind and get a large pot of water boiling vigorously. Boil until the lutefisk dissolves. If trying to clear out the squatters, continue boiling until you almost run out of liquid in the pot. Find a safe place to dispose of the toxic waste.


MNR said...

I, too, married into a Norwegian family but have never acquired a taste for Lutefisk (though I am always happy to go to lutefisk suppers, as i loove lefse and rutabagas and meatballs and ...) Made lefse this year for the first time without my father-in-law, used the Beatrice Ojakangas recipe very successfully, but would've found Oscar's detailed rolling-out directions very helpful! Guess i will need to make again this season :) Happy Thanksgiving! Ann

AlisonH said...

Love Oscar's comment! Just glad my Swedish ancestors aren't accused of any such traditions (as far as I know). Butter cookies, maybe, yes. (Suddenly wondering what reindeer-butter cookies would taste like. If there is such a thing.)

Karen said...

Lefse, yum. Happy Thanksgiving, cousins!

Don Meyer said...

I've heard of lutefisk, and that it was pretty horrible. No, thanks.

fleegle said...

So far, linen, nettle, pinapple, and hemp make the cut. I'm still working on tracking down banana fiber processing.

Love lefse...hate lutefisk :)