lutefisk
A traditioanl Norwegian Constitution Day (Syttende Mai) dinner, with lutefisk, lefse, and meatballs. Wikimedia Commons

Lutefisk season is upon us, and I am in receipt of several invitations to try the famous — infamous, in some circles — Norwegian dish.

I’m sure the invitations have come because of a column I wrote early last month about being asked to speak at the Madison Torske Klubben (Cod Club).

In that earlier column, I mentioned that while I was looking forward to the Sept. 4 speech — Norwegians are my people, after all — I was leery of the “traditional Norwegian food” that was going to be served at the luncheon.

I have spent half a century avoiding lutefisk, the dried cod soaked in lye that is one of Norway’s best known foods.

I’ve never eaten it, and whenever anyone asks how I know it isn’t good if I’ve never tried it, I respond that if it were good, I would already have tried it.

How can anyone argue with that logic?

As it turned out, the lunch was not lutefisk, but rather baked cod with drawn butter and a chilled bottle of aquavit for every table. It was a fun group and a good time.

But my mention of lutefisk in the column brought a number of invitations to the many lutefisk dinners that are being held in the area this month.

I rejected them out of hand — graciously, of course — except for one.

Mauritz Mortensen — “Mort, among friends,” as he said in his first e-mail — is a journalist of some 50 years standing who spent time in Madison (studying journalism at UW-Madison) and is now back in his native Norway.

Mort read my lutefisk column online and promptly fired off an e-mail.

“Sorry to read you had a bad experience with lutefisk,” he wrote, “which is actually a delicacy when served correctly.”

Of course, I didn’t have a bad experience with lutefisk. I have no experience. But let’s not split fish. Mort continued:

“If you can coerce your chief editor to sponsor the flight, I shall be glad to invite you for an unforgettable lutefisk dinner at Grand Cafe in Oslo ten days before Christmas together with a total of four retired newspapermen.”

Since that first e-mail, Mort has been a regular correspondent, weighing in on everything from Leif Erickson Day (Oct. 9) to the Nobel Peace Prize.

Last week he brought up the lutefisk dinner again: “Dear Doug, Please receive this confirmation of my earlier invitation to you for a great lutefisk party at Grand Cafe, Oslo, Dec. 15.”

I haven’t had a chance to respond to Mort, but will do so here, addressing some specifics laid out in his e-mail.

Mort wrote: “Invitation does not include flight and hotel.”

I can’t see that as a problem, Mort. First-class round-trip airfare and a suite in the historic Grand Hotel, where the Cafe is located, shouldn’t amount to more than $5,000. I’m sure the State Journal will be happy to spring for it.

I’d really like to see the Grand Hotel, where the playwright Henrik Ibsen was a regular. I might be able to get an answer to the pressing question: Did Ibsen write “An Enemy of the People” about lutefisk?

Mort also wrote: “Dress is normal dark suit, white shirt and colorful tie.”

Well, Mort, I don’t own a suit, a white shirt, or a necktie. But what the heck. We’ll just add it to the State Journal’s tab.

Pending the ironing out of those minor details, I’m thinking of accepting Mort’s invitation. If I’m ever going to try lutefisk, shouldn’t it be in Oslo?

It does make me think of the famous response that the Mississippi author William Faulkner gave when he was asked why he turned down an invitation to a White House dinner for Nobel Prize winners.

“That’s a long way to go just to eat,” Faulkner said.

But then, Faulkner wasn’t Norwegian.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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