Preparations underway for First Lutheran's 98th lutefisk dinner

A volunteer rolled lefse dough Friday at First Lutheran Church, where preparations are underway for the long-standing lutefisk dinner this Saturday, Oct. 16. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
A volunteer rolled lefse dough Friday at First Lutheran Church, where preparations are underway for the long-standing lutefisk dinner this Saturday, Oct. 16.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

POULSBO — Kristan Stenman transferred a piping hot tower of just-baked lefse from one counter to another in the First Lutheran Church Christian Center Friday, where the smell of the traditional Norwegian flatbread clung to the air.

A third-generation dinner volunteer, Kristan Stenman was one of 20 lefse-makers preparing for the church's 98th annual lutefisk dinner on Saturday, Oct. 16. Volunteers rolled, balled and flattened potato dough in clusters, a fast-paced assembly line working smoothly from years of experience.

Like many, Kristan Stenman learned the trade from family. Her grandparents, Bill and Tilda Stenman, helped put on the dinner, and now her father, Gordon Stenman, co-organizes the event.

He'll be selling tickets from 1-4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the entrance to First Lutheran on Fourth Avenue.

Many generations of families have boiled cod, rolled meatballs and chopped salad as part of a cultural and community tradition. Gordon Stenman estimated more than 100 volunteers will pitch in this year, many of them kids learning the ropes.

"You have to watch out who your parents are, because you're going to get to do whatever they are doing," said lefse-maker Marje Fossum.

Joyce Holzhey learned to make lefse for the dinner a decade ago. She said she returns to the task to offer her services, and to reconnect with friends. Mary Kirkendall agreed. She joined the crew five years ago after answering a notice in the First Lutheran bulletin.

"These people are wonderful. They come out of the woodwork to help make sure this is a success," she said. "Every year we have more and more people coming and learning how."

The making of lefse is a three-day process. Two hundred pounds of potatoes are cooked to consistency and mashed, and sugar, salt, milk and oil are added on the first day of preparations. On the second and third days, flour is kneaded into the dough, which is then rolled into 1/3 cup balls, flattened, baked at about 450 degrees and stored until the day of the dinner.

Nearly 2,000 pieces of lefse are made, some to be served with dinner and others to be sold.

There's more to the dinner than lutefisk and lefse. The menu includes Norwegian meatballs and gravy, potatoes, salad, fresh sliced tomatoes and dessert.

Food is served family-style in large portions at each table, and is all-you-can-eat.

Preparations for the dinner begin as early as September. So far 350 of 1,000 tickets have been sold. Reservations have been made from people all over the Northwest, Gordon Stenman said.

Roughly 1,200 pounds of lutefisk, a lye-soaked cod, are delivered from New Day Fisheries in Port Townsend and then boiled at the church.

While most partake in the full array, Gordon Stenman recalled one Norwegian man who came to the dinner just for the fish.

"That's all he eats, nothing but lutefisk and melted butter," he said. "I marvel at him, because it's something to just sit there and eat lutefisk."

The First Lutheran Church lutefisk dinner runs from 11:40 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 18920 4th Avenue. Seatings are every 20 minutes. Tickets cost $22 for adults and $5 for kids over the age of five. Kids younger than 5 eat free. Tickets will be available at the door. Learn more at

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