The magic lute’ marks its 90th year

POULSBO — Platefuls of Norwegian food, music and smiles were the orders of the day as First Lutheran Church’s annual Lutefisk Dinner turned 90. The event, which had its humble beginnings in the church’s original social hall as a congregation-only gathering has long since opened its kitchen to the general public.

Event organizer Margene Smalaaden called the dinner an improvement over last year, noting another 100 percent mark from the health district on food handling and a greater number of volunteers.

“This year ran like clockwork,” Smalaaden said. “There was not one complaint. Everyone was thrilled with how it went.”

Greeter Chet Gausta has been attending the dinner for about 79 years.

“I started coming when I was about 8 or 9,” he said. “Back then it was $1. Now it’s $15 — I guess it’s inflation.”

The cost of living wasn’t the only thing swelling in Poulsbo Saturday, plenty of waist bands were doing likewise as an estimated 1,250 visitors filled up on everything from the featured dish to potatoes, lefse, meatballs and salad.

When asked if he enjoyed the Norwegian delicacy, Gausta — indicating his “Think Lutefisk” button — gave an incredulous look before replying, “You bet. I was raised on it. My grandmother used to make it.”

Gausta said while the consistency of the dinner’s fish hadn’t changed much in his experience, the after effects have.

“The silverware used to get black from the lye,” he said with a smile.

Elda Armstrong attended the event with her family and said the fish was “good” even “wonderful” this year.

“It’s an acquired taste,” her husband Herb offered. “ My son Greg has acquired a taste for it. He came all the way from Lacey for this.”

Acquired or not, the verdict on lutefisk was still out for volunteer Emily Wildung.

While she’s been working the event for three years, Saturday marked her first taste of the cod.

“I just tried it today,” she said. “It’s kind of jello-y.”

Smalaaden said she noticed among this year’s lutefisk first-timers many more children than she’d seen in years past. She said there were still many old-timers in attendance but they were bringing newbies into the fold for sure.

“My little grandson is 8 months old and he was there just chowing down on lutefisk,” she said with a laugh. “So the new lutefisk generation is definitely coming along.”

That’s the idea behind the ‘fisk, of which Norma Hanson was dishing out in heaping helpings an endless stream of servers. Shortly after 2 p.m. and hours on the job, Hanson’s smile grew larger than usual as she announced, “I’m gonna eat now!”

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