Historic Dried Codfish Found In American Swedish Institute Archives; 90-Year-Old Lutfisk Added To Fika Café Menu On April 1


By The Minneapolis Egotist / /

‘Remarkably preserved and basically edible’ Swedish immigrant food unearthed during historic mansion renovations

As renovations begin at the historic American Swedish Institute mansion in Minneapolis, items long in storage are being unpacked and repacked for moving. In late February, ASI staff made a tremendous discovery: three wooden trunks packed with bundles of dried cod wrapped in Swedish newspapers dated 1932 — copies of ASI founder Swan Turnblad’s Svenska Amerikanska Posten. This example of the main ingredient used in the beloved Scandinavian delicacy, lutfisk, is believed to be the earliest discovered in Minnesota.

Lutfisk is dried cod that has been soaked in a lye solution for several days to rehydrate it.  It is rinsed with cold water to remove the lye, then boiled or baked, and then served with butter, salt, and pepper. It is traditionally served at Scandinavian American holiday tables for those brave enough to try it.

“In one of our oldest storage areas — the Carriage House basement packed with decades of ASI history — we unearthed this astonishing piece of history,” says Bruce Karstadt, CEO, ASI. “Many Scandinavian families believe lutfisk was brought by their immigrant ancestors on ships bound for America— and that it was all they had to eat.  We don’t know how it got here — perhaps the Turnblad family had put it aside in case of emergency? Kept it as a nostalgic reminder of a humbler past? In any case, we’re thrilled to have it and are excited to share it with our guests — it’s surprisingly edible.” 

A portion of this food find will be prepared as lutfisk and served at FIKA Café at the American Swedish Institute on April 1 by reservation only. To book the lutfisk experience, please visit https://asimn.org/lutfisk-april/.

Dried cod has no expiration date and a practically infinite shelf-life, so lutfisk made from these archaeological finds will be as safe, and surely as delicious, as lutfisk made from newer cod. To be certain, ASI sent samples to University of Minnesota Department of Food Science and Nutrition food archaeologist Dr. Jonah Poisson for date verification and an official edibility rating. Replicating traditional lutfisk preparation techniques, Poisson placed the cod into the U’s industrial-grade food rehydrator, then soaked it in water with lye. He found the sample “lightly flaky, yet highly aromatic” and gave it an edibility rating of 22 on a scale of 1-100, a number that rose to 31 when consumed with quantities of melted butter.

ASI also shipped a sample to renowned food historian Dr. Richard Tellström, an author and food researcher based in Stockholm. “Lutfisk dates to the Viking era, when legend has it pillaging Vikings burned down a fishing village, including wooden racks with drying cod,” says Tellström. “Ashes covered the dried fish as the villagers doused the fire with water, transforming the fish to something ‘not too bad.’ The rest, as you know, is history.”

“I’ve now had a chance to prepare and sample this vintage lutfisk – and was quite surprised and pleased by its distinctive aroma and piquant flavor,” adds Tellström.  “I heartily recommend this practice of keeping lutfisk dry for at least 30 years (if not more) before preparing it—although there are certainly some who would recommend never preparing it at all.”

The remaining cod will be accessioned to the permanent American Swedish Institute Collection in a ceremony on April 1. 


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