Day 198: Lutefisk Risk

Laetitia and her group met in Red Wing and started down the Mississippi River on the Minnesota side as planned. This time they bypassed Wabasha, hiked in Whitewater State Park, had lunch in Minneiska, visited the old Pickwick Mill, and hiked up to the Sugar Loaf pinnacle near Winona before crossing the river into Wisconsin to return to Red Wing. The bartender at the bar and grill where they had lunch had a lutefisk story about Minneiska that became the limerick of the Day.

Lutefisk is dried whitefish, usually cod, that has been treated with lye to keep it from spoiling. When prepared, the lye is washed out and the lutefisk is prepared for eating by boiling, steaming, or baking. It is usually served with a white sauce or melted butter and washed down with aquavit. Though its adherents claim that it can be prepared without a strong fishy odor, many find its smell offensive. Since the advent of refrigeration, it is rarely consumed in modern Scandinavia, but it remains very popular among people of Scandinavian descent in North America, who serve it on holidays because it was a tradition that their ancestors brought from the old country. In fact, their ancestors likely ate it only because they were poor and had no refrigeration, but the tradition persists.

There are a variety of legends about lutefisk’s origin, but according to one Irish legend, St. Patrick ordered his monks to pour lye on their monastery’s stores of dried fish to keep the Vikings from eating them during a raid. Apparently, the Vikings ate the lye-soaked fish, enjoyed the taste, and brought the recipe back home with them. The story has a glaring anachronism, suggesting that someone who had kissed the Blarney Stone likely made it up. St. Patrick died several centuries before the Viking raids began.

The bartender’s lutefisk story was about a Minneiska lad who married an Irish girl while studying abroad, and brought her home. It wasn’t a happy marriage. The lad commuted to Rochester to work, leaving her home with the in-laws and little to do. The crowning blow occurred when she was served lutefisk at Christmas dinner and was expected to eat it. It’s not clear whether the Irish wife knew the legend, but after the lutefisk incident she filed for divorce and went back home to Coomakista.

When her in-laws served lutefisk, a
Young Irish lass left Minneiska
For she hated the smell
And it didn’t sit well
So home she went to Coomakista.