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Lutefisk evokes memories — good, bad

Updated October 31, 2018 - 4:44 pm

The 15th annual Desert Troll lutefisk dinner is just two days away, and yet the vast majority of you have no clue what it is.

You probably have heard a few disparaging comments. “It’s just a bunch of old Norwegians eating stinky fish.” “Lutefisk is some North American cod soaked in lye that only Norwegians can eat.” “Nobody eats that stuff anymore; it’s just an excuse to get together and whoop it up.”

Being half-Norwegian and an active member of Desert Troll, the local Sons of Norway lodge, I must confess there is a tad bit of truth in each of those jabs. But those old Norwegians do so love their lutefisk that they fill the Elks lodge here.

A similar crowd greets the other area Sons of Norway Lodge, Vegas Viking, which also holds its dinner in our local Elks dining hall. They do two sittings in February because Las Vegas has so few dining halls available for groups over 200.

Elderly Norskies remember lutefisk as an essential component of Christmas. My grandpa Nelson would buy the raw cod and soak it in a bucket of lye on the back porch for days, then my grandma knew how to cook it just so. Adding butter and/or cream sauce made it the most wonderful thing I can remember about the Christmas Eves of my youth.

I think the truth today is that this is more about nostalgia than the actual taste. I don’t think you can buy it in any restaurant, except in Minnesota and during the holiday season, but for us old Norwegians it is the very essence of our Christmas memories. (We will have extra packages for sale at the end of Saturday’s dinner.)

By now, the majority of us have entered into mixed marriages with a spouse of a different ethnic origin and they pretty much universally hate the smelly stuff. So the kitchen was forced to add meatballs and grilled pork to the menu to satisfy the uninitiated. With the mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade cookies and a few other comestibles the result is a very tasty dinner for one and all.

The dinner comes complete with music, raffle and live auction filled with donations from Boulder City and Henderson merchants. These bring in nice revenues for our charity and scholarship fund.

The Sons of Norway was founded 123 years ago in Minneapolis by unwelcome immigrants from Norway who were not being treated as well as other settlers. For one thing, insurance companies would not write coverage on them for reasons I do not know.

Sons of Norway grew rapidly, like so many other fraternal groups did, but reached its peak maybe 10 years ago, like so many other fraternal groups did. It now has just under 400 lodges in the U.S., Canada and Norway. The lodges have monthly meetings; ours are at 6:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month and rotate between Henderson and Boulder City with great speakers.

Anyone can join. No DNA test is needed. We have even allowed some Swedes to sign up.

You do not need to be a member to come to the lutefisk dinner. The tab is $22 for adults, $14 for school kids and free for preschoolers. Alas, tickets may be sold out when you read this. But if you want to give it a try, call me at 702-415-4764. If we are sold out, I can at least put you on our reminder list for next year.

Dave Nelson retired to Boulder City in 2003 after a career with the FICO score company. He is vice president and newsletter editor for the local Sons of Norway.

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