Lutefisk: An Iola tradition
The annual Norwegian Lutefisk Supper from 1-6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, continues Iola’s Norwegian heritage.
Lutefisk and lefse were brought to the United States by early Norwegian immigrants.
“They brought lutefisk and lefse in their suitcases,” said Leonard Haroldson, of Iola. “It was like dried pieces of cardboard.”
According to Haroldson, the “modern day” lutefisk (cod) is delivered skinless and boneless.
“We used to put it in canners and cheesecloth at the old high school,” he said. “Eugene Voie and I were the rookies back then, so we had to de-skin and de-bone the fish.”
That was the stinky job, he said.
“The new fish doesn’t stink,” Haroldson said. “The stink was in the skin.”
In the early years, about 20 percent of the fish was wasted before it was sent to the cooks, which included Gene Taylor, John Madson and Roger Voie.
“With the new lutefisk, there is no waste,” Haroldson said. “But it costs more.”
Now Haroldson has moved up in the world and is in charge of the Lutefisk Crew for the Norwegian Lutefisk Supper. The fish is cooked in his maple syrup cooker, which can hold four to five slabs.
“The important thing with cooking lutefisk is to warm it up slowly,” he said.
Haroldson places a slab in warm water before placing it in the lutefisk cooker’s boiling water. If it is put in cold, the outside cooks too fast and it becomes “all mushy.”
For about six to eight minutes, Haroldson keeps a watchful eye on the boiling fish.
“Then you need to catch it at the right time so it’s nice and flaky,” he said.
Lutefisk needs to be served immediately with lots of butter to add flavor. It gets mushy if it sits around.
Singing lutefisk songs is a highlight of the annual Norwegian Lutefisk Supper.
Everybody waits anxiously for the Lutefisk Crew to don their Viking hats and go into the dining room to sing.
Their hit song is “Oh, Lutefisk, Oh, Lutefisk,” sung to the tune of “Oh, Christmas Tree.”
Haroldson said singing is a rather new job for the Lutefisk Crew.
“We started singing about 10 years ago,” he said. “Before that, we never sang.”