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.

Day 75: Donkey Show

Terryglass is a village near Lough Derg, one of the three lakes on the River Shannon and the third largest lake in Ireland. It was the site of a monastery founded by Columba of Terryglass. This St. Columba is not to be confused with the Irish monk who founded the monastery on Iona. There are at least fifteen Irish Saints with that name.

The village of Terryglass has two historic wells, the Eye Well and the Headache Well. The water from these wells is believed to have medicinal properties. Laetitia and her group stopped at Terryglass to see the two ancient wells and the ruin of the monastery that was burned by the Vikings in 1164. All that remains of the monastery is one wall that has now been incorporated into a pub. Laetitia and her group decided to see the wall from the inside while having a pint of Murphy’s Stout.

That afternoon they went to the Nenagh Agricultural Fair. Nenagh is a market town that serves the agricultural areas surrounding it. The fair featured Irish dancing, vintage cars and tractors, a best dressed lady contest, a boxing exhibition, modern farm machinery, and wild boars on display. Its most popular feature was the Annual Donkey Derby. This was ostensibly a race, but was mostly a contest to see who could stay seated on the donkey until the end of the racecourse. Once a mainstay of Irish farming, the donkey has now mainly been displaced by the tractor, but the animals remain popular and there were several on exhibit or for sale.

Laetitia talked to a young woman from Terryglass, who was upset because she thought the noisy behavior of her donkey might reduce its chance of being sold for a good price. The conversation inspired the limerick of the day.

A fine lass from the town Terryglass
Went to Nenagh to market her ass
Which she proudly displayed
Until loudly it brayed
Unbefitting an ass of high class.