Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 9, 2005
Kaffe och lutfisk
"I hope you know where the grade school is," Art said.
"Olsburg's not very big. It can't be that difficult," I answered.
We were on our way to the 49th annual Swedish Supper, sponsored by the Olsburg Lutheran Church. Art likes precise directions whereas I sometimes tend to "wing it."
We had been to the village several times to check out Mom's uncle's connection to the area, but that was several years ago. We had always heard about the supper, but for some reason, the timing had never been right before for us to attend.
We arrived at 4:37, just a few minutes after the designated start time. We had no problem finding the school as cars were already lined up along the street in front of it. We dropped Mom, her friend Stan and our "German daughter" Nadja at the front door and went to find a parking spot.
As we passed by the north side of the school, a couple of men were standing outside in the cold, filling large coffee makers with a garden hose. "Those Swedes do love their coffee!" I said to myself.
Maybe I should have said "we Swedes" since I'm half Swedish and Mom is 100 percent.
A Dala horse in a window near the front entrance welcomed us. We hung our coats in a small room off to the side of the gym while banana, pumpkin and cranberry breads, Christmas cookies and other sweets for sale beckoned to us from a long table across from the coat racks.
The small gym was buzzing with activity. Red candles glowed on the tables. Swedish wall hangings and life-size Santas fashioned by school children decorated the walls. Two violinists played Swedish music. Children wearing Swedish costumes and men and women in bright colors moved efficiently throughout the gym, filling water glasses and coffee cups and carrying heaping bowls of food from the kitchen.
Mom, Stan and Nadja had wasted no time. They were already in the food line. Art and I joined them. Nadja commented that many of the foods reminded her of those in her native Germany. We selected a bit of everything: Swedish meatballs, potato salad, sweet potato pudding, cabbage slaw, pickled herring, potato sausage, stuffed eggs, pickles, cheeses, bread, fruit soup, brown beans, herring salad, gelatin fruit salad, lingonberries, ostkaka (rennet pudding or cheese curd cake), cookies and even the famous - or infamous - lutfisk (stock fish.)
I'd heard so many stories about lutfisk and not many were complimentary. Some were from Mom and Aunt Edith while the most recent was on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" on National Public Radio. Keillor said there's only a small window of opportunity for cooking the lutfisk so that it's edible. Aunt Edith made it once and I think the window was closed that day.
Mom and Edith have often talked about their family's Christmas Eve supper in the Swedish community of Marion Hill in Morris County. Lutfisk was a part of that supper. Their Dad Nels used to buy planks of the dried fish in Dwight. He and their Mom Hulda soaked the fish in water, then in wood ashes to loosen the flesh, then in water again to rinse it.
"It was like cardboard before that," Mom said.
Even the Mostrom relatives I met last summer in the northern part of Sweden talked about how long it takes to prepare the lutfisk and cook it just right.
I've always been hesitant to try lutfisk because of such stories, but I decided to try a very small portion.
Covered in a cream sauce, it wasn't too bad! Art said he would have added salt and a lot of pepper to it, but otherwise, it was acceptable. Stan said he enjoyed 99.44 percent of the meal. That was his diplomatic way of saying the lutfisk wasn't included.
The rest of the food was downright delicious. We kept going back for more. I favored the ginger cookies while Stan asked me to spear him another piece of pickled herring for his dessert.
He praised the entire experience.
"Many, many loving hands helped with this," he said.
And he was right. For one evening, we were all a bit Swedish. We washed the lutfisk down with cup after cup of Kaffe. I had five cups and Art, who doesn't drink much coffee, had at least that many.
And as we left town, those two fellows were still standing in the cold filling the coffee makers with a garden hose.
Art, Nadja, Stan and Edla at Olsburg Swedish Supper.