Autumn is the time for lutefisk

Jerry Apps
Author Jerry Apps prepares to dive into a traditional Norwegian dish of lutefisk, left, and  lefse.

Little did I know when I married into a Norwegian family that I was expected to enjoy the Norwegian delicacy, lutefisk.

For 58 years I have successfully avoided lutefisk (dried codfish that is soaked in a lye solution for several days to rehydrate it). All of this changed a few Saturdays ago when our friend, Patty Putnam invited my brother-law, Clarence Olson, my wife and me to attend the 72nd annual lutefisk dinner at the Vermont Lutheran Church located near Black Earth.

I was amazed to learn that over 900 people had signed up for this annual event. According to Pastor Barry Hoerz, people come from near and far—this year from Maryland, Arizona, and Missouri besides from all over Wisconsin.

About every 45 minutes a new batch of people were served—from about 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The meal was served family-style.

They served 600 pounds of lutefisk, 620 pounds of boiled potatoes, green beans, cranberry relish, and lefse. For the unknowing, lefse is made from potatoes.

The Vermont church cooks made 1,400, 12-inch rounds of lefse, using an additional 350 pounds of potatoes. Not to forget the Norwegian cookies of many kinds—just the best.

To prepare the lutefisk, it is rinsed with cold water to remove the lye, then boiled or baked. It is served with lots of butter.

I ate some lutefisk, but, with my German upbringing, I could not find anything especially notable about its taste. I found this old Norwegian-American saying: “About half the Norwegians who immigrated to America came to escape lutefisk. The other half came to spread the gospel of lutefisk’s wonderfulness.”

That says it all.

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: Always be open to a new adventure.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to