Editor’s Note: This column was originally published in the Dec. 20, 2012 edition of The Creswell Chronicle.
Christmas is a coupleweeks away and my salivary glands are already beginning to flow at the thought of biting into a piece of pickled herring as the aroma of baked Lutefisk fills the house on Christmas Eve.
As long as I can remember, food has played an important role in my family’s Christmas tradition. No matter how hard I try, it seems that I can’t make it through the Christmas holidays without gaining at least five to 10 pounds.
When I was growing up in Salem, one of my fondest memories was spending Christmas Eve with my dad’s family – Swedes and proud of it! I think Grandma Olson began cooking for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, because there was literally enough food to feed an army.
It was always a sight to behold as my father and his five brothers, farm boys from North Dakota – all built like NFL linebackers – went through the food line with two or sometimes three plates loaded with food. I was always thankful that the kids were allowed to go through the line first!
Our traditional Swedish Christmas Eve dinner would consist of pickled herring and baked Lutefisk, which is also called Swedish Christmas Fish. For generations it has been the main dish of traditional Christmas Eve dinners, and believe me, the smell of baked Lutefisk is a Christmas tradition all unto itself.
Other dinner items would include Lutefisk Grot (which is also called Lutefisk pudding). Have you ever had fish pudding? Yummy! It really isn’t as bad as it sounds. There was also Kjoubillar (Swedish meatballs) and Potatiskorv (Swedish potato sausage). Both of these dishes contain meat (pork) and potatoes with a variety of spices. Also Bruna Bonor (Swedish brown beans), Lefsa (I call it a potato tortilla), Julekake (Christmas bread) and Swedish rye bread, along with a variety of other Americanized dishes.
After dinner, the entire group would move into the living room to sing Christmas carols and open presents. Within minutes after the last Christmas carol, the living room was transformed into a littered battlefield of wrapping paper, ribbons and bows.
On Christmas Day, my immediate family – mom, dad, sister and myself – would open our gifts before heading to my other grandparents, who were Norwegians. Like the Swedes, pickled herring and Lefsa were on the main menu. However, one of Grandma Nelson’s traditional Christmas entrees was her sweet potato balls.
Sweet potato balls were made from mashed sweet potatoes and orange rind, molded around a marshmallow. Then they were dipped in beaten eggs and rolled in crushed cornflakes and baked. We also had other exotic dishes from time to time, like orange Jell-o with sliced carrots mixed together, served on top of iceberg lettuce. But the sweet potato balls were definitely a family tradition!
Once in a while I get the urge to bring back those memories of Christmas feasts gone by. But the minute the smell of Lutefisk starts spreading throughout the house, I’m quickly reminded why we let Grandma do the cooking.
Somehow it just isn’t the same, much to the chagrin of my wife and kids, who beg me to never bring that stuff into the house again!