By Jennifer Gallus
Lutefisk may be on its way out, but lefse remains high priority
HOWARD LAKE, MN - Although lutefisk is making a slow retreat from the Tesch’s Christmas traditions, lefse remains a staple for the family (click here for a recipe of lefse).
Jim and Marge Tesch of Howard Lake celebrate Scandinavian traditions during the holiday season. Even though Jim is of German descent, Marge’s Norwegian and Swedish roots dominate the couple’s holiday treats.
Although the traditional lutefisk dinner is slowly disappearing from the couple’s holiday menu, lefse remains a centerpiece item for the holidays.
“Lutefisk is cod,” Marge explained. “It was first brought over here from Norway or Sweden in vats of lye. Mom used to soak it in water for days before we could eat it,” she added.
Christmas Day, when Marge was a girl, included a trip to her Swedish grandparents’ house, and dining on lutefisk, lefse, Swedish meatballs, and homemade potato sausage.
After Jim and Marge married and had children, Christmas Day included lefse, but the lutefisk was replaced with oyster stew, because their children didn’t like lutefisk.
Now that their children are married, and the in-laws and grandchildren do not care for the oyster stew, other kinds of soups have been offered in addition to the stew, while the lefse remains as popular as ever.
Although, Marge explained, Jim still likes to attend the local lutefisk dinners that are offered in the area every fall, “even though he is German.”
Today, lutefisk is no longer soaked in lye to preserve it. But back in those days, it had a strong odor to it.
“Jim had a co-worker back then who used to haul it. He said his truck would stink so bad that he couldn’t stand it,” Marge laughed.
Jim and Marge have been making homemade lefse since the 1970s. Marge rolls it out, and Jim fries it. One batch makes about 20, which is enough at one time, Marge said.
“Growing up, we ate lefse like a burrito,” Marge explained. “We would put lutefisk and mashed potatoes and gravy in it. Now, I mostly eat it with butter, and Jim and the kids like it with butter and brown sugar.”
The Tesches traveled to Norway in 1986 and observed that lefse there was hard, and made with flour instead of potatoes, as it is made here.
“They put it between wet towels to soften it before they ate it. It tasted like lefse, but I think it tastes even better when it’s made with potatoes,” Marge said.
Jim and Marge have now taught their oldest two granddaughters how to make lefse, and look forward to continuing the tradition.
Even though the lutefisk tradition is on its way out, “the lefse remains. I have to have lefse,” Marge laughed.