Swedish Lutfisk: Much More than Tradition

This photo evokes childhood memories

I will always remember at Christmas traveling to Chicago’s Andersonville with mom and Grandma Maja to stock up for traditional Swedish foods from Wickstrom’s deli.

Archive image of Wickstrom’s Swedish Deli in Andersonville Chicago

Of course, no pilgrimage to Andersonville with mom and Grandma Maja would be complete without the purchase of LutFisk. (Lye Fish) No Christmas would ever be complete without the ritual of stocking up on this fish along with other traditional Swedish goodies, It was like an annual vaccination to get charged up filling a cart with deli meats and cheeses, caviar, herring tidbits. The inside of the deli was always packed with people and often a line formed outside waiting to enter and take a number. When one’s number was called it was time to show off one’s best Swedish greeting Mr. Wickstrom’s inquiring as to the quality of his goods for this Yuletide events. It was exciting preparing for the much anticipated and revered Jul season smorgasbord feasting ahead.

Mom looking to heaven thanking God for LutFisk

In my book I take aim to share warm and tender recollections about Swedish traditions that are just as connected to my family roots as the red hair from my Viking forebears. Lutfisk is much more to me than a Christmas habit.

Lutfisk is a big slab of cod that comes from the deep icy cold far North Atlantic the stomping grounds of the Vikings and today’s Laplanders. Laplanders are the people Grandma said, live off of reindeers of the Norland, frigid and desolate, dark and cold much of the year. Many stories were told about the sturdiness of a whole clan of people who thrived on adverse living conditions. The Lappish, (Sami indiginous people ) Maja said, we’re very proud to be “different “. The distinctive dress signaled that they were not your usual blond hair and blue eyed Scandanavians. Maja said their lifestyle was more like Eskimos. She admired their self sufficiency. They lived off of the land. They kept to themselves in villages and clans. They spoke a language somewhat like Swedish. They were a tough group who hunted and fished and ran reindeer herds for food, clothing and more. They perfected living under harsh conditions which Maja claimed offered life lessons for Swedes. The Swedish Lappish, Maja said, “have backbone and spine, independent and proud of it”, “they prepare for tough times and as rugged individuals train their children to stand on their own two feet.”

All my life I could look at Grandma Maja’s Laplander Doll on Skis and Recall lessons on Being Independent and Strong

“Lappish people, Maja said, caught codfish when the water was not frozen and dried the fish on racks and then preserved the slabs of dried fish stored in barrels”. The fish were powdered with lye to kill bacteria and prevent rotting thus insuring a supply of food. Dried cod becomes lut fisk that can be placed in baths of water washing away the lye that preserved it.

Taking the dried fish home or a few pounds already pre-washed was our ritual. For days and weeks water changed daily until Christmas feasting. Served with boiled potatoes and a white cream sauce, Swedes Roll their eyes in delight connecting to tradition.

More than tradition for Maja was telling stories of the August Källgren deli shop the family owned in downtown Sollefteå . Lutfisk was handled by Maja and all the family waiting on eager Swede customers. The Swedes in Maja’s home town who would enjoy this tradition perhaps might have a discussion about lessons from Lut fisk. Some might talk about lessons learned about the Swedish value of being well prepared to deal with adversity when it comes like bitter cold winters and hunger.

Källgren’s Deli on the right as people pictured would turn to enter the shop. Circa 1908

Published by Donnie: An Admiring Grandson

Living an inspired life modeled after my Grandma Maja who stepped up as a Swedish immigrant widow mom of 3 facing America’s Great Depression demonstrating uncommon grit and valor overcoming imperfections. I am determined to share her life lessons so she is no longer forgotten. I have a book to share and the reader will preview the entire story by visiting here. You are most welcome

5 thoughts on “Swedish Lutfisk: Much More than Tradition

  1. When we throw a pebble into the water…Never doubted it would ripple and ripple and ripple.How she must be smiling.Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

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  2. I love this blog. I have a funny recollection about Lutfisk. My father made Lutfisk one Christmas. He kept the container down stairs in the cellar. This one Christmas he must not put enough salt in the water and the lutfisk went back. My mother would be so upset everytime he opened the cellar door and the smell of the fish even after it was thrown out was terrible and my mother would be telling him when the relatives came over not to go down that cellar.

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    1. Great story. Thanks for the positive comment and sharing that great story. Lutfisk is so much fun to talk about.

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  3. Lutfisk was always a part of our Christmas – my Father didn’t care for it too much but my Mother and I did – my siblings – so so – they could take it or leave it – most often they left it – more for me! My Mom would get the dried fish and start the soaking mid Decemeber – changing the water frequently. I must confess that I didn’t think much of it as a kid but I acquired a taste for it as I got older. In the rural part of Alberta where I grew up (Camrose area), there were often Lutfisk suppers at some of the community halls. As far as I know, the little village of Kingman, Alberta still has an annual Lutfisk feed in early December.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this story and more of the Lutfisk history – thank you!

    The problem I have now living in eastern Ontario is that I can’t find it anywhere – there isn’t much out this way for any Swedish foods other than IKEA. My Lutfisk quest continues…….

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