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Olsen Fish from Minneapolis, Minn., is the largest U.S. supplier of lutefisk and provides the placemats to their retailers. (Katie Pinke/ Forum News Service/ Agweek)

Love that stinky, Jell-O like lutefisk Christmas tradition

It's terribly stinky at our family Christmas Eve evening meal. Each year, the center platter dons a fish with a texture that reminds me of Jell-O.

Fish Jell-O for Christmas? It's technically lutefisk. Translated from Norwegian, lutefisk means lyefish, a dry cod that was soaked in a lye solution. The old, early ways of soaking dry cod in lye are gone, and I am told the quality of lutefisk is better than ever. Quality cod or not, I am making lutefisk, alongside a prime rib beef roast for my family's Christmas Eve dinner before we attend church.

Here's a secret from the Christmas cook: I don't like lutefisk. I don't like the texture, the look of it and certainly not the smell. Most Americans with Norwegian heritage are like me because in my internet research of lutefisk I learned consumption is falling 5 to 7 percent each year. However, in Norway, the younger generation is eating it again, and there is a surge in lutefisk popularity. My lutefisk preparation may not cause a surge in popularity for it within in my family. When I told our kids I had purchased lutefisk while picking up our venison and half a beef at Valley Meat Supply in Valley City, N.D., they groaned and said, "Why?" Why lutefisk on Christmas Eve?

Each year, my memories of the smell of lutefisk fade. My memories of sitting around the large dining table at my grandparents' or my parents' farmhouses and eating it live on. I eat about a tablespoon size worth each year, buried in melted butter and swallow it in one gulp. This year I am aiming for two tablespoons, doubling my serving because I bought 7 pounds of it this year and don't want to give too many leftovers to the cats. Though, I do have memories of bringing leftover lutefisk to barn cats when I was a kid. Even the farm animals eat well on Christmas.

I want to carry on a few important traditions to the next generation. Lutefisk on Christmas Eve is a nod to tradition, to the way my Norwegian ancestors survived long before they were here farming on the American prairie land we remain on today.

Cod is caught in Norway from the cold, winter months into the early spring. The cod would come into the Northern Norway coast and be dried. Cod is one of the oldest Norwegian trading commodities and once was a major part of diets, especially on long voyages, like from Norway to the United States by boat.

Olsen Fish in Minneapolis, Minn., is the largest retailer of lutefisk in the United States and supplies church suppers and retailers around the country, about 500,000 pounds annually. They supplied my retailer of choice in Valley City, N.D., and had a stack of "Love that Lutefisk" placemats to share when I purchased the fish. The paper placemat is complete with new recipes and lists a phone number for the "Lutefisk Hotline" I might need to use on Christmas Eve.

The top of the Olsen Fish placement reads “Preserving a Tradition.” Yes I am preserving a food tradition but also creating fellowship around food. I went back to Valley Meats Supply this week to purchase the freshest oysters that be found in North Dakota. It's not exactly like shucking them at Cape Cod like I once did, but again it's an effort to preserve a food tradition for my husband's side of the family. Alongside lutefisk will be oyster stew this Christmas. Find your food traditions. Dig up old recipes. Prepare them. Most importantly, gather your loved ones together this holiday season. Set the table. Turn off the electronics and television. Sit together. Enjoy food, even if it looks and taste like fish Jell-O, and share in fellowship together around traditions, new and old.

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