Calvin Whitehurst- A Holiday Food Memoir


Lately on NPR they have been featuring a lot of food memoirs, probably has something to do with Christmas and Thanksgiving around this time of year. I have also read quite a number of them throughout the years for various reasons and I absolutely despise them. Usually food memoirs consist of a look back at an author’s childhood.  First of all, anybody’s childhood that is halfway interesting isn’t typically expressed through a food memoir so childhood memoirs told in the food format are probably going to be dull and will not be any different than the worst “One Man Show” you’ve ever seen.  The second thing I dislike about the food memoir format is that the description of said food is usually too dramatic and the author always claims that their relative making the food created the best rendition ever.  An example would be “My mother made the best apple pie known to man”.  So in lieu of so many car rides home from work with head-smashingly terrible NPR food memoirs and the holidays still sort of alive, I decided to write my own anti-food memoir.  

A Holiday Food Memoir

By Calvin Whitehurst

Lutefisk is a Norwegian supper dish.  It’s gray, lumpy, and can be either a thick gelatin consistency or a soupy dribble.  Anyway you have it, it’s downright morbid and disgusting looking.  It smells like a dirty black sock soaked with slobber from a dog that just ate its own shit from the backyard.  What it tastes like, I could never tell you because it was never even accidentally ingested by me.  Imagine all of your relatives from Minnesota, all Norwegian, some with scruffy red hair and freckles slurping this glop down like it was their first meal in a week, grateful for the sustenance.  Than look down at your own imaginary plate, filled with sloppy white gravy and pieces of aged fish floating around in it.  Your cringe with disgust.  Now look around your imaginary table. To your right is a jar of pickled herring, a distant cousin of Lutefisk, like a coyote to a wolf, smaller and slightly less malignant.  It has a slightly darker gray sludge in comparison and has a more pungent sour smell to it.  Jars of these can sit in the fridge for years and still be good, making several holiday appearances until its old enough to start kindergarten or even reach puberty.  To your left is mashed up rutabagas, a pathetic substitute for potatoes and your only chance of eating something tonight.  In the center of the table is a crock pot filled with “meatballs” slow cooking in frothy light brown gravy.  The meatballs are essentially a dirty trick.  To the gentle outside these meatballs looking perfectly enticing.  He or she will see the other offerings on the table, especially the Lutefisk in all its primordial glory, and go straight away for the meatballs.  DO NOT EAT THE MEATBALLS.  They are made of a mystery meat that only the chef knows the true origins of.  They usually are prone to keep it a secret and this slimy Norwegian thinks its funny to do so.  Some speculate that the meat is simply freezer burned venison from many seasons ago, but the truth scientists will never know.  The meatballs are extremely overcooked, a mushy mush that is beyond any mush you have ever mushed inside of your mouth.  The appearance of Lutefisk coupled with the texture of the meatballs in your gob will make you want to gag and your eyes will water with fear.  You will internally ask of God, “Who are these people and why do they torture me with these food items that are worthy of the television show Fear Factor?”


      Well friend, they are simply my relatives.  They are simple folk from Minnesota with simple holiday traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation with very little variance.  They make this goop in the spirit of the holiday season and they eat it with a vengeance every year.  And every year I go hungry and somehow manage to look like I ate it all (you shouldn’t insult the natives).  Somehow I manage to sweep tiny bits of this slop into a nifty plastic bag that I fashioned to fit in my pocket.  This pouch is simply a garbage bag that enters at the pocket and snakes down my pants leg.  At the end of the meal you bring it into the bathroom and flush the bag. No one is suspicious of the toilet being plugged anyways because of all the gut bombs people just ingested, the night will be full of these chaotic plumbing events.  All of this spares me of the lectures about how I’m Norwegian and I need to eat my culture’s food because I am so skinny.  For the record, I am an American, pizza for breakfast and ice cream for dinner.  When my sister was quite young at one of these events, she looked at my grandfather with soft glistening eyes and asked with a small Tiny Tim voice, “Gwandfadder, why do we eat dis food duwing Chwistmas time?”  It was at this moment that my grandfather Milton entered into a scathing story that I will try to paraphrase in a more entertaining and less Minnesotan way.

     ‘There was a terrible storm in the icy Northern Pacific Ocean.  Leif Ericson, the great Viking leader, led a convoy of about one hundred and fifty of the sturdiest oak Viking ships that ever sailed the seven seas filled with 25 Viking warriors each.  The ships were a worthy match to a great and furious storm that made Thor himself shiver a bit in Viking heaven.  They were sailing to lands that were uncharted, searching for a new port that they might pillage and plunder from.  Ericson’s men were hungry and needed something warm and delicious to fill their sea-worn bellies.  They had been in their ships for weeks rowing in and out with not so much as a tiny minnow in their nets to eat.  They survived off of moldy bread and crumbly doughnuts.  The storm was no help in their search for food as the waves were too extreme and would tear their nets to shreds.  Ericson stood at the bow of the lead ship staring into the midnight waters, one leg perched high on the neck of the great serpent head carved into the ship’s bow.  His great horned helmet glistened with rain as he turned and yelled back to his crew with a booming voice, “CAST THE NETS!”  “He has gone mad!” they muttered amongst each other as they threw their doomed nets into the ocean, the other ships followed suit.  As soon as they hit the water the nets were impregnated with hundreds of fresh cod squirreling around with ferocious power.  The other ships had the same result and the fleet was soon loaded down with a surplus of shimmering giant fish.  Shortly after, the storm went completely calm and the sun began to rise in the distance.  There in the west was the most beautiful thing the Vikings had seen in weeks, a tiny sliver of a horizon.  This horizon was North America.  The men yelled and leaped with laughter. Their great leader, Lief, stood there with the same old harsh grimace he always had.  With a growl Ericson yelled in an exaggerated manner “ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!”  The men were so excited they forgot their hunger and rowed so hard they soon made it to shore.  Upon arrival Leif Ericson cooked for his men something that never before had been thought of just like this new land that had never been discovered.  He took ingredients from the land such as a new vegetable, Leif called it “Lye”.  From it he made a hearty broth and cooked the cod in it. He then hung the cod up to dry and fester in the sun for hours as spring had finally come and the land was defrosting from a long hard winter.  Flies came and landed on the cod laying their eggs and defecating on the delicious meal being prepared.  Finally it was completed!  The Vikings ate it cold with great pleasure as it was a well deserved meal.    This disgusting delicacy would forever be known as Lutefisk.’


                The Vikings at their new seaport would begin to trademark their signature dinner with this name and would trade it throughout the Viking Kingdom from Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and places as far as the near East.  Lutefisk was treasured for its amazing healing attributes of diarrhea, upset stomach, and projectile vomiting.  It was said to clean out one’s system as one would always feel extensively better after an evening of eating Lutefisk.  The Vikings and their newly adopted dish were the greatest terror that ever roamed the seas until colonial pirates came on the scene a few hundred years later.  It is from this rich heritage that my family partakes in these meals every Christmas at my Grandfather’s house in Minnesota.  It is horrible.