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12/29/2004 – Editorials

Wednesday, December 29, 2004                     Volume 121, Number 48

By Richard Peterson

I got sick on Christmas Day and spent the next 38 hours in bed, sleeping mostly. I certainly didn’t feel like writing a column, so I had to resurrect one from 10 years ago:
This silly little joke is making the rounds of the weekly newspapers:
Ole was hired by a limousine company in New York to drive one of those long, luxurious limousines that look like they’re about a block long.
One day, he received an urgent call to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. To Ole’s surprise, his passenger turned out to be the Pope. It seems the Pontiff had a very urgent matter in Philadelphia and his aides felt that the limo would be quicker and more private than an airline. So, off went the Pope and Ole to Philadelphia.
The Pope admired the new limo and commented to Ole that he’d never been in such a fine automobile. He then asked Ole if he might drive the luxury car a few miles. Ole said it was OK, and stopped the car to let the Pope behind the wheel, while Ole sat in the back seat.
As the Pope drove down the interstate, the speed of the limo went steadily higher . . . 60 mph, 70, then 80. Finally at 90 mph, they attracted the attention of a highway patrolman.
After they were stopped, the Pope and Ole sat apprehensively as the patrolman approached. The trooper surveyed the situation and swiftly went back to his patrol car where he contacted headquarters by radio. He said, "Chief, you’re not going to believe what an important car I’ve stopped."
The chief asked, "Is this party more important than the governor?
"Oh, much more," answered the patrolman.
What about a US senator? The chief queried.
"Far, far more important," was the answer.
"Well then," said the chief, "It must be the President of the United States."
"No," said the trooper, "This guy is the most important man I’ve ever seen."
"Well, just how important is this gentlemen," asked the puzzled chief.
"Well all I know," responded the patrolman, "is this guy looks like a Norwegian, but he’s got the Pope for a chauffeur!"
Many people in this area have a Christmas and New Year’s tradition of eating lutefisk. How did this Scandinavian delicacy come to be?
The Scandinavians for thousands of years have been fishermen. They caught codfish and had no refrigerators or freezers in which to keep them, so they hung them up by their tails to dry. In 6 to 8 weeks they become as stiff as boards.
With so little moisture left in them, they won’t mold or spoil. They can be stored in piles like cordwood for long periods, theoretically for as long as 20 years.
Then when our ancient relatives decided to eat the fish, they soaked them in water until they were soft and pliable again. One day hundreds of years ago a drunk Norwegian knocked a can of Lewis lye into a tub of soaking fish, and presto, lutefisk was created. Lutefisk translates to "lye fish."
The fish soaked in the lye water softened much faster and more completely than when just plain water was used. And it turned a beautiful pure white.
The lutefisk used to come to stores in barrels. The storekeeper had to change the water on the soaking fish a number of times before selling it.
When someone wanted lutefisk, the grocers used to pick the fish right out of the barrel and plop it on a scale. Today it comes skinned, pre-weighed and pre-wrapped in plastic.
I know of only three ways to prepare lutefisk. The old way is to boil it.
But one has to be careful not to boil the fish too long or it will lose its consistency and become slimy. This doesn’t deter a good Scandinavian, however. My Icelandic grandma loved the lutefisk slime.
Some say you can bake it. I’ve never tried that.
My favorite way of cooking lute-fisk is in the microwave. First, make certain the lutefisk is completely thawed out if it has been frozen. Do NOT try to microwave frozen or half frozen lutefisk. If you do, you’ll end up with mush. Put the lutefisk in one layer in a glass or microwave-safe utensil. Add a couple tablespoons of water and cover with microwavable plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the quantity in the container. Then test the fish. If it flakes easily, it’s done. If not, microwave another minute. Then test. If it isn’t done, microwave another minute and so on until the fish is ready to eat. It won’t get slimy on you if you microwave it this way.

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