Nothing Like Fish for the Holidays

It’s Not This Time of Year Without…

Nothing Like Fish for the Holidays

When my family came from Finland, Norway and Sweden to America in the late 1800’s one thing they didn’t leave behind was their love for fish. Many of them ended up settling here in South Dakota, in the midwestern part of the United States where there are many lakes. They no longer had their saltwater fish but they had a good supply of fresh water fish to satisfy their hunger. During the holiday seasons, I would imagine they were reminiscing the good days they had in the old country. They would have a special meal with their favorite fish from the old country.

My father’s family were from Norway and my mother’s family were from Finland. In our family “It’s not this time of the year without….”seemed to be all about fish.


My grandfather Andrew would send away for a whole salmon, it would come on the railroad in a box by itself. It would be salted very heavily to keep it from spoiling. The salmon was usually soaked in some water to draw out part of the salt before it was eaten. This was one holiday or winter meal made with salmon. We all truly loved it, I still enjoy eating it today. It’s a very simple recipe.

Peel some potatoes and cut them up into fairly small size pieces and chop up an onion or two. Put that in a pot of water and cook until the potatoes are almost done. Dice up some of the salmon into bite-size pieces and add it to the boiling water with the potatoes and onions, the more salmon the better. It only has to cook a very short time and then you add some milk to the soup, you don’t want to put the milk in when it’s too hot so it curdles. After you add the milk, add a generous amount of real butter to the soup. At those festive times we weren’t really concerned with clogged up arteries. In Norwegion this is called saltet laks suppe.

My grandfather Charlie Wayrynen came from a part of Finland where they had access to caviar. There was no caviar in the fish from our local lakes. The closest thing he could come up with was to take the roe or fish eggs out of a large northern pike. He put them in a crock with a lot of salt and he made his own poor man’s caviar, he enjoyed it on his bread as if he were spreading butter.



The Finnish dinner was made was salted herring. These were all male herring and salted in a very heavy salt brine. You had to soak them in water almost overnight to get the salt out to the point where you could enjoy eating the fish. These salted herring used to come in a small wooden barrel, almost every local market in this area sold these little barrels of herring. At one time there was a big demand for the fish. If you want this type of herring now, you would have to send away a long distance to find it.

This was a very simple meal, the fish was boiled after much salt had been soaked out of it. It was served on a plate with boiled potatoes and a gravy made with a lot of butter and onions, it would have a vegetable served with it. This was a very tasty meal and also a very simple meal, from a time long before fast foods. This herring specialty was called, suolattu mies silli.




Another holiday tradition, also involving fish, it is Lutefisk. It is cod fish that has been kept in barrels of lye water. It also requires much soaking in fresh water. The Norwegians also get the credit, or the blame for bringing Lutefisk to America from what I have been told. People eat it and come to love it, or vas de fibing bout dat to! Most people say, “vunce a year is yust fine.” Evidently there has to be some truth to it. I don’t think you’re going to eat that stuff just from national pride. You can boil your Lutefisk, which I prefer, or bake it in an oven. This is another fish dinner served with a lot of butter and a lot of mashed potatoes, cranberries and a vegitable. It should be served with lefse, a flat Norwegian bread rolled up similar to a tortilla.

It’s not this time of year without remembering all the loved ones who have gone on before, they helped mold us and make us what we are today.

5 thoughts on “Nothing Like Fish for the Holidays

  1. Really quite interesting post. loved the bit about the poor mans caviar. immigrant peoples will find anything in their new home to make it seem like home. carrying on the traditions.


  2. Pingback: It’s Not This Time of Year without: Fun | What's (in) the picture?

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