Norwegian Disappointment: Covid Postpones Lutefisk Feasts

Dec 28, 2020

Spokane Sons of Norway's annual lutefisk dinner brings nirvana for Norwegians, but not this year.
Credit Courtesy of Lois McKinnell

Covid has taken a bite out of a Norwegian holiday tradition. Lutefisk is the focal point of many Norwegian community celebrations here in the Northwest, including Seattle, with its large Scandinavian population. But most of those events, including one in Spokane, were cancelled this fall.

For Norwegians like Lois McKinnell, lutefisk is one of the things that most reminds them of their ancestral home.

To a non-Norwegian, it might sound gross. Lutefisk is codfish dried in lye and reconstituted for eating. It’s an acquired taste.

“I actually do like it when it’s prepared properly. It’s great. If you like cod, you’ll like lutefisk," she said.

Spokane’s Sons, and Daughters, of Norway, order the cod from Seattle or back in the Midwest. Once it’s here,

Roger Young from Grand Coulee prepares lutefisk for Norwegian feasts in Spokane and other Washington communities.
Credit Courtesy of Lois McKinnell

McKinnell says it has to be specially prepared, something not just anyone can do.

“For our particular lodge, it’s Mr. Roger Young and he does a fine job. He cooks it outdoors in a kettle," she said.

When it’s ready for eating, the lutefisk is white, looks like gelatin and is the star item on the menu at the Spokane Sons of Norway’s annual lutefisk dinner held each November.

“We prepare the lutefisk, Swedish meatballs, lefse. We try to buy the best ingredients we can get, always russet potatoes for our mashed potatoes, as well as for making lefse, the traditional flatbread," McKinnell said.

At the feast, that spread feeds about 200 people at the All Saints Lutheran Church, two groups of 100 at a time, most of them of Scandinavian descent. This year, that kind of gathering was verboten, not only here but around the state. A Seattle website that caters to Norwegians lists one event in Poulsbo that went on as scheduled, albeit with strict attendance guidelines and food available for pick up.

Curiously, McKinnell says lutefisk seems to have run its course back in the old country.

“But here in America, us Norwegian-Americans can’t let it go. Some people came to America from Norway and brought their dried lutefisk with them," she said.

It’s like the Norwegian version of haggis, that Scottish traditional dish that many people loathe.

“If you’ve been raised with it, it probably seems perfectly tasty and normal to eat it. If you haven’t, you might be put off by it if it’s poorly prepared," she said.

If all goes well, McKinnell and her fellow Norwegian-Americans hope they’ll serve their next lutefisk feast sometime next spring.