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Quest for ‘fisk prevails over rain

POULSBO — Last week’s balmy temperatures gave way to blustery conditions Saturday.

But true lutefisk lovers didn’t even seem to notice.

Things were hopping at First Lutheran Church when the doors opened for its 92nd annual lutefisk dinner at 11:20 a.m. Oct. 16. By the traditionally-busy noon, crowds were just as large as they’d ever been, said event organizer Margene Smaaladen. About 700 tickets were pre-sold this year and a steady stream of non-ticket holders had made their way in to purchase them throughout the day. One man Smaaladen spoke with had flown up from San Diego, Calif. to attend.

“The rain doesn’t seem to have any impact on lutefisk eaters,” she said.

Annually, about 1,100-1,500 people attend the First Lutheran dinner to sample handmade Norwegian delicacies like lefse, meatballs and New Day Seafoods’ lutefisk. The dinner, a fund-raiser for the church’s many community projects throughout the year, is very much a tradition in the congregation and beyond.

Ramona Davis, who has been part of the massive volunteer effort for about 15 years, said her parents’ and grandparents’ legacies were her reason for joining the lutefisk dinner crew. She said working the event makes for a long day but she’s enjoyed watching the feast grow over the years. Now held in the church’s expansive gym, the event used to be held in its much smaller social hall.

“I remember having it in the other hall and we thought we were busy there,” she said with a laugh, looking around at the hundreds of guests packing the gym.

Friends Don Gummere of Renton and Norm Sundquist of Auburn could hardly wait for their table to be ready Saturday. Once their seating time came around, the duo rushed over and Gummere jokingly grabbed his folk and knife and banged the handles against the table with a wry smile. The two have made the trek to Poulsbo for the feed the last 25 years without missing one.

“It was absolutely exquisite,” Gummere said after finishing several helpings of the ‘fisk. “The texture was just right. It didn’t even require any sauce, just pepper and butter.”

Sundquist said besides being a good warm up for his Sons of Norway lodge lutefisk dinner in two weeks, the event gets he and his wife into the holiday mood. Also, the former Poulsbo resident likes to come back to his hometown to see old friends.

“All my friends’ sons are out there cooking now,” he said.

Among the delicacy’s first-timers Saturday was Miss Poulsbo Canon Henness. Wearing her traditional bunad, the young woman assisted doormen Earl Hanson and Chet Gausta and posed for photo opps with visitors until it was time for a dinner break. She tried lutefisk with both butter and cream sauce and said she liked the Norwegian melted butter version better.

“Very flavorful,” she said of her first taste. “A little strange but it was good. I feel very cultural right now.”

Smaaladen said lutefisk neophytes and children are some of the most enjoyable to see at the dinner. She said seeing people of all ages try the delicacy for the first time gives her hope for the future of the event.

“It’s nice to see the younger generations coming,” Smaaladen commented. “There was a time we thought, ‘Is this going to continue? Or are all of the lutefisk eaters dying off?’ But they just seem to come out of the woodwork each year.”

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