Learning to love lutefisk

Bigfork lutefisk dinner an annual tradition


“You must be Scandinavian,” the woman said as I sat down in the pew.
“Nah, German and Russian,” I said.

“Well, you certainly look Scandinavian,” she said. “That sweater looks Scandinavian.”

I settled into the sanctuary with about 75 other people Saturday afternoon at Bethany Lutheran Church’s 95th annual lutefisk dinner. I waited for Brach Thomson to call my number for a table downstairs.

Meanwhile, my friend and I chatted with each other and some of the other folk attending this annual Bigfork tradition. The entire church buzzed with activity. But it was really the sweaters that caught my eye. The elegant, elaborate sweaters were something from a Christmas catalog. 

As soon as we were seated to our table of eight, a waitress brought around bowls and plates full of the goods: potatoes, lefse, squash, ham, Swedish meatballs and, finally, the lutefisk.

I didn’t realize that this annual event was also THE place to see and be seen, if you were Scandinavian. There were three generations of Fetveits at my table, and the two tables next to us were filled with various Fetveit family members from around the Flathead Valley. 

I had never eaten lutefisk, but being an avid hunter and fisherman, I’m game for anything. I’d been told that lutefisk was an acquired taste, and I was ready to dig in.

The plate moved around the table quickly and I got my fair share before passing it on. I slathered on some melted butter, and was thereby indoctrinated into the world of lutefisk.
I wondered how I could have missed this Bigfork tradition for so many years. But I don’t think this institution that has gone on for 95 years is just about eating some kind of strangely prepared fish.

Like a basketball game on a Saturday night, these gatherings are a way for a small community to stay connected, to learn about each other. And of course to wear sweaters we put on only once a year.

The dinner began as a way to welcome home men from World War I as part of Armistice Day. My friend Patricia, who had grown up in a Lutheran church in Iowa, was a bit reluctant when I told her we were going to a lutefisk dinner.

She had been exposed to traditional lye-soaked lutefisk and I think she was not looking forward to enduring a meal of boiled cod.
But as soon as she walked down those stairs from the sanctuary to the basement church she slipped into a comfortable, warm place like that of her childhood. 

Patricia hails from Denmark, so her blond hair and blue eyes immediately won her marks with the pair of 90-year-old ladies seated at our table. 
All she was missing was the sweater.

Next year we’ll be prepared.



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