Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lutefisk for Christmas

In 1870, during what is known as the Golden Age of Great Lakes Sailing, nearly 65% of sailors on the Great Lakes were Norwegian. Sailing was a skill that many men brought with them from Norway and since the vast majority of Norwegian immigrants settled in the upper Midwest of the United States, the Great Lakes were easily accessible.

During an eight year period around that time, more than 110,000 Norwegians came to America, a migration wave bested only by the Irish. A rapidly growing population faced with limited industrial growth led to large numbers of young people searching for greener pastures outside of Norway.

Most set out for America and many wound up in Minnesota, just like Garrison Keillor's jokes about Sven and Ole on his Prairie Home Companion radio show. The Norwegian immigrants celebrated Christmas as Twelfth night so they had ample opportunity for feasts, including sausages, flatbrød (flatbread), smultringer (doughnuts) and home-brewed ale.

Lutefisk, dried cod soaked in lye, was not necessarily a Christmas delicacy, but as the Norwegians became Americanized, they seized on lutefisk as a unique remainder from the old days and incorporated it into their Christmas traditions. In fact, Madison, Minnesota has a giant fiberglass cod statue named Lou T. Fisk to commemorate their standing as the Lutefisk Capital of the United States.

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