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Norwegian tradition celebrated Saturday


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It is a Viking tradition that dates back 13 centuries. And it's a Havre tradition that dates back 76 years. The annual lutefisk dinner at Havre's First Lutheran Church drew large crowds again Saturday. Behind the scenes, a small group of men prepared the ancient Norwegian dish in t h e garage b e h i n d t h e church. The cooks arrived at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, almost four hours before the first fish was served in the church dining room. While boiling the fish and wrapping it in cheesecloth, the chefs explained the history behind the Norwegian delight. "It's a high-protein meal that enabled the Vikings to sail to Greenland and eventually to North America," said Ingman John Gjersing, as he wrapped the fish. The fish was also popular in inland Norway. Peopl e were able to withstand the cold winters by eating lutefisk, said Jim Spangelo, a veteran cook. "People on ships ate lutefisk, and the people inland ate it," he said. "The highfalutin people on the coast didn't." It was popular in North Dakota and Montana wi th Norwegian homesteaders, he said and the tradition has been handed down. Today, lutefisk dinners are held in Glasgow, Choteau, Joplin and other Hi-Line communities. The cod is caught off the coast of Norway and is sent to Minnesota. Initial preparations are made there, and it is shipped to Havre. Preserved in a soda lye, it is boiled in salt water in the church garage, Spangelo said. For many years, the work was done in the church kitchen, Spangelo said. Bu t i n t h e 1 9 6 0 s, t h e church was remodeled, and e l e c t r i c s t o v e s w e r e installed. "The electric stoves just won' t heat the sal t water enough," he said. So the work was moved out into the garage. The hot salt water removes the lye and makes the fish more tasty, the cooks said. I t 's boi led six to eight mi n u t e s b e f o r e b e i n g wrapped. Boy Scouts then take it to the kitchen, where it is served to customers. One of the advantages of working in the kitchen, the cooks said, is that you have to constantly taste the food to make sure that it's OK for the customers. "You can squeeze it to see if it's done," Spangelo said. Others make lutefisk in different ways, the cooks explained. Some use trout or salmon. Others put it in a white sauce, Spangelo said. "That's the Swedish way," he said. The Norwegian-American chefs groaned in protest.


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