By Jean Schurman
It began in Charley and Judy Larson’s kitchen 40 years ago. A few members of Faith Lutheran Church thought it would be nice to produce a dinner focused around Scandinavian food such as lefse, Swedish meatballs and of course, lutefisk. From that humble beginning, the Scandinavian Dinner has grown to feed more than 400 people from throughout the valley. The event not only has the traditional food, including cookies such as spritzs, krumkakes and sandbakkels, but also boiled potatoes and salads. This year’s Scandinavian Dinner will be on Saturday, January 26, from 3 to 7 p.m.
Something of this size doesn’t just happen overnight. As the event has grown, so have the notebooks for each of the four main areas: meatballs, lefse, cookies and overall setup. These notebooks are the blueprints for the event, according to chairpersons Celeste Pogachar, Colleen Murphy-Southwick, and Linda Beyer.
“There is so much historical knowledge with this event,” said Pogachar. “These binders help to pass it on.”
Murphy-Southwick concurred, and said they are trying to ‘partner’ younger church members with the people who have been putting the dinner on so that the knowledge is passed on and the event can continue.
“It’s a cross-generational event,” according to Murphy-Southwick, who went on to say that church members from the very young to the old timers contribute in some way.
After months of planning, ordering and organizing, the trio and their crews get down to business four weeks prior to the actual event. The first weekend is devoted to making meatballs, lots of them. They will serve about 4,500 meatballs in the four-hour period on Saturday. The 250 pounds of hamburger and sausage are mixed at the Hamilton Market (the IGA store) and then brought to the church in tubs and the ‘meatballing’ can begin. Once the meatballs are made, they are frozen until the final preparations for the dinner begin.
The next weekend is devoted to making lefse. Potatoes are cooked and then riced. Once that step is done, then the potatoes are mixed with cream and flour and kneaded like bread dough. The dough is divided into small balls that are rolled and flattened out. Then the ‘Norwegian’ comes out in the cooks. The lefse is cooked on a flat grill-like apparatus, much like a tortilla on a grill. The lefse is turned using specially made turners that look like long, flat skewers. Once the lefse is cooked, it is cooled and then folded and put in a bag to be frozen until the big dinner. There are two thoughts on how to eat the lefse – traditionalists say to use only butter but others think a bit of sugar and cinnamon are needed. By the end of the day, 1200 rounds of lefse will be made for the dinner.
After a weekend of baking cookies, the crew uses the final days to prepare. On the day of the dinner, a tent is set up just outside the kitchen window. This is where the lutefisk and potatoes are cooked. The lutefisk comes from Olsen’s Fish Market in Glenwood, Minnesota. Larson said that over 70 percent of the lutefisk in the nation comes from here. Lutefisk is dried cod that has been soaked in a lye solution for several days to rehydrate it. After several days, the lutefisk is rinsed several times to remove the lye. It is then baked or boiled and served with butter, salt and pepper. Several years ago, the crew tried to cook these items inside but the steam was overwhelming. Now, the lutefisk and potatoes are passed through the kitchen windows and then taken to the tables. The dinner is served family style with young members from the church handling the serving and busing the tables.
Because this event is so labor intensive, the church members decided several years ago to do the dinner every other year. This gives everyone a break and keeps people from wearing out.
On Saturday, many of the church members will wear traditional Scandinavian garb while serving and cooking the dinner. Carol Peterson will say a traditional Norwegian blessing at each table. Murphy-Southwick said that even though she has Irish roots, on this day she, along with everyone else who attends, is celebrating Scandinavia.
She said, “It’s a cultural event that everyone can enjoy.”
The Scandinavian Dinner will be held on Saturday, January 26, from 3 to 7 p.m., at the Faith Lutheran Church, located at 171 Lewis Lane in Hamilton. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. Tickets may be purchased at The Paper Clip in Hamilton or at the door. For more information call 363-2964.