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Annual lutefisk dinner was a cultural homecoming | Editor's Notebook

Valborg ‘Volly’ Grande and Earl Hanson greet each other at the 100th annual lutefisk dinner at Poulsbo First Lutheran Church, Oct. 20. Looking on is Miss Poulsbo Michaela Meeker. Grande’s father, J.T. Norby, was the church’s pastor during the first lutefisk dinner a century ago.                                                                                           - Richard Walker / Herald
Valborg ‘Volly’ Grande and Earl Hanson greet each other at the 100th annual lutefisk dinner at Poulsbo First Lutheran Church, Oct. 20. Looking on is Miss Poulsbo Michaela Meeker. Grande’s father, J.T. Norby, was the church’s pastor during the first lutefisk dinner a century ago.
— image credit: Richard Walker / Herald

The First Lutheran Church’s 100th annual lutefisk dinner Oct. 20 was more like a family reunion than a community event.

Earl Hanson, 89 going on 69, could have been your favorite uncle, greeting everyone with a smile and making sure all were welcomed. Margene Smaaladen and Terri Alexander, lovely in bunads with designs from their families’ regions of origin in Norway, could have been your favorite cousins, taking an interest in every guest and ensuring everyone had everything they needed.

In the kitchen, an army prepared the food and kept the lefse, meatballs, salad and sauces streaming out to the dining hall, and washed dishes that streamed back. Like any family gathering, there was a chance to pitch in and prove you wanted to be a productive member of the clan. Three people going through Drug Court washed dishes and helped with other kitchen duties. Ah, redemption.

And, like any gathering of loved ones, skills learned from the previous generation were employed or passed on to the new generation. Aldeen Smaaladen, who learned to cut cod from his father, and Darryl Milton cut fish and placed it into cheesecloth bags — 5-6 pounds of fish each — so it wouldn’t fall apart when cooked.

Brothers Karl and Kurt Serwold, third-generation cooks, cooked each bag of fish for about 5-10 minutes, then steamed it for another 10. This process requires a lot of care; cook or steam for too long and it’s ruined.  “You’ve got to pay attention to how hot the water is,” Karl said.

The Serwolds and Karl’s high-school son Brian, the fourth-generation, kept the cooking up to meet demand — not too much, not too little, each portion cooked just right, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Back in the hall, the humor was as abundant as the meatballs (remember the relative who likes to kid all the time?) Someone handed me a card, “Lye to Cod and Lutefisk Happens.”

Valborg “Volly” Grande, who is 97 going on 67, told a funny story about growing up as one of nine children of Rev. J.T. Norby, pastor of First Lutheran during the first lutefisk dinner 100 years ago. Another pastor once commented to Norby about his large brood. Norby responded that the Lord had said to be fruitful and multiply and populate the earth. The other pastor answered, “I know that, Norby, but he didn’t mean for you to do it all by yourself.”

At this point, Grande’s family arrived. Noting the dinner’s centennial, her son joked, “Hey, mom, they’re serving lutefisk, and it’s a hundred years old.”

At most reunions, you can always count on a relative to critique the food, and this one was no different. “The lutefisk needed a touch of salt,” said Steve Swann, a Poulsbo port commissioner. “But it was really good. We had it with the white sauce.”

Swann, formerly a lawyer in Virginia, has immersed himself in the culture of his adopted town, donning a Viking helmet to serve flapjacks at the annual Lions Club Pancake Breakfast and buying a house on — where else? — Fjord Drive. Now, after his first lutefisk dinner, he’s a fan of the ’fisk.Some 1,500 people shared this meal, which is to Poulsbo’s Norwegian descendants what corned beef and cabbage is to Seattle’s Irish. It’s a reminder that food on the table wasn’t taken for granted by the grandparents and great-grandparents. They knew how to preserve and store food for tough seasons and lean times. And when times were tough, they survived by pitching in and sticking together.

Now as then, the masses were fed because everyone pitched in and stuck together. [Funds raised from this event, about $11,000, go to Martha & Mary].Jerry Erickson, husband of Mayor Becky Erickson, seemed a touch sentimental after dinner. He didn’t like lutefisk while growing up because his grandmother made it all the time. This was his first taste of lutefisk in 50 years, he said. And he liked it. And he talked of his loving grandmother who read from a Norwegian Bible and lived to be 104. This son of Norway had come home.

About 2 p.m, the Clover Blossom Band took the stage and the sweet sound of the “Nidelven Waltz,” Earl Hanson’s favorite tune, filled the air. And the traditions continued on.

 

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