We Followed Our Noses

We arrived at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis at 3:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon, December 7th, and found a spot in their very large and already crowded parking lot, not near the  front. 

Love, Sue and Allan, too.

Light snow was slowly drifting from the sky and nobody seemed to be in a hurry, including us. 

The doorman’s greeting said it all:  “Down the stairs, turn left, and follow your nose.”  That’s exactly what we did.

We followed our noses into a spacious dining room hall that was already full of people, already seated and eating.  Fervent lutefisk lovers don’t wait until dinner hour to engage, and they don’t fool around when serving begins at 3:00 p.m. 

It must be admitted that the smell of lutefisk in the air is not like the smell of turkey in the oven, and yet there was a quickening of step and brightening of eye as we saw plates full of jiggly wiggly lutefisk drowning in drawn butter and/or white cream sauce.

Decorated tables of food were waiting for us near the Christmas trees in back of the dining hall, and if one didn’t recognize the red and white Norwegian outfits of the servers and waiters, the smiling workers may have been mistaken for Christmas elves.  But there was no mistaking the array of food before us.  It was more than familiar, since both Allan and I grew up with lotsa lutefisk and lefse, and we still have it for supper at home in Victoria, especially this time of year.  Tradition and traditional foods rise to the forefront during the holidays, at homes and in churches across the land.  It’s our human heritage.  The jiggly wiggly lutefisk went onto our plates first, then a scoop of meatballs, next a scoop of white peeled and boiled potatoes, and a dollop of mashed rutabagas for Allan.  Rutabagas are not in my vocabulary.

We were then asked, “Butter or white sauce?”  We chose the butter, as is our custom, and the red and white girls drizzled it all over the lutefisk and potatoes.

Another helper asked, “Lefse?”  We both said, yes, of course, and she placed two rolled lefse on each of our plates. 

At the same serving table, another red and white helper asked, “Rice pudding?”  We replied, “Yes, please.”  “With lingonberry sauce?”  “Yes, please.”

A gentleman found us two empty chairs next to each other.  “Thank you.”

It was so delicious, in fact, that we both went back for seconds.

And then we slipped the slippery lutefisk into our salivating selves.  It was all quite delicious.

After dinner I met Nicole Schnell, Communications Director at Mount Olivet, with whom I communicate on a regular basis through the Victoria Gazette.  Her church has a second campus in Victoria just across Schutz Lake from us.  It’s called Mount Olivet Church West, and they draw parishioners from the entire community.  I asked Nicole some questions about the Lutefisk Feed which was billed this year as “The 83rd Annual Scandinavian Lutefisk Dinner.”

I learned that church women in 1929 started the Lutefisk Dinner and the charge was 29 cents per plate.  Its history is rooted in a desire to gather the community for fellowship during the Advent Season.  The church itself was founded in 1920.  More than 100 people volunteer at the dinner as table setters, cooks, servers, cleanup help.  Approximate membership of Mount Olivet is 13,000 people.

A lady named Eileen Scott, who is a Mount Olivet Home Economist, has been the head cook for the dinner since 1964, which means over 45 years.  The lutefisk comes from the Olson Fish Company.  More than 1,200 pounds of it are delivered fresh in the morning for the dinner that night.  Approximately 1,100 people came to eat lutfisk at this year’s dinner.  The menu is the same every year. 

Thank you, Mount Olivet, for sending me an invitation.  We will come again.