Titles by Kij Johnson are available for purchase online

It all started in January 2008, when a livejournal friend, copperwise, sent me a lovely Norwegian sweater (which I still have), some antique walrus mammoth animals (ditto), and a couple of Norwegian cookbooks (again, ditto). The cookbook (it was the Elise Sverdrup one) was a revelation, and by revelation, I mean crazytown. On a whim, I posted one of the recipes:

Norwegian Ale Soup

  • 1 pint ale or beer
  • 2 pints water
  • 2 yolks of egg
  • 2 tablespoonfuls cream [that’s how she wrote it, that’s how I write it]
  • 1 tablespoonful sugar
  • 1/2 cup crisply toasted cubes of white bread

Whip ale, water, eggs, and cream in saucepan and bring to boil. Stil constantly. Serve with floating toast cubes. Serves 4.


Um, what? said I.

But that got me thinking about Norwegian food, which in my family we ate a lot at Christmastime, and then went back to Kraft Dinner for the rest of the year. And the next day I posted this, a food I actually had eaten repeatedly as a kid.

Lye Fish (Lutefisk)

  • 2 lbs. lye fish (see below)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 oz. salt

Cut fish into large pieces, simmer 1 min. in unsalted water, add salt and simmer for another 5 min. Adding salt after fish has boiled gives it the right consistency and a fine flavor. Serve with freshly boiled potatoes, stewed yellow split peas, melted butter or drippings from roast pork. Serves 4.

To prepare lye fish:

  1. Freshen fish in water 2 to 3 days. Change water frequently.
  2. Skin fish and cure in lye mixture 2 to 3 days (10 quarts water to 2 pints lye).
  3. Freshen in cold water 2 to 3 days. Change water frequently.


So basically, you take salted fish (they forgot to tell you that in the recipe), soak it in lye (which is poisonous and they make soap out of it) because you’re bored with salted cod and at least this way, you’re not bored, right? Like Russian roulette or something. And then you rinse the lye out; but by this time, the fish has changed texture and developed a gelatine-like transparency. And then you warm it up slightly and get all your passive-aggressive hatred of your family out of your system for another few months. It’s weirdly delicious, or like fish Jell-O, take your pick.

People were not kind.

And the next day, I posted Mock Mushrooms because Norwegians have a lot of time on their hands?

Mock Mushrooms (Fluesopp)

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups cooked, chopped spinach
  • 2 tablesp. butter
  • 2 tablesp. flour
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/4 teasp. sugar
  • 1/2 teasp. salt

Make a thick sauce of butter, flour, and cream. Add sugar, salt, and spinach. Keep warm. Boil eggs 8 min., put immediately into cold water and peel. Cut off top to make them stand firmly. Place eggs in hot spinach, place one half scooped tomatoe [sic] on top of each egg, sprinkle with chopped egg whites. Serves 4.


…which sounds adorable.  But now I was on a roll.

Lettuce (Norwegian fashion)

  • 2 nice heads of lettuce
  • 1/2 cup thick sour cream
  • 1 teasp. sugar
  • 2 teasp. vinegar
  • 1/4 teas. mustard
  • 1 hard boiled egg

Clean all lettuce thoroughly and strain off all water. Crisp 2 min. in refrigerator. Whip sour cream with sugar. Add spices [vinegar’s a spice?] and blend with lettuce. Garnish with wedges of egg.


When I read this, I was like, sour cream dressing? What the hell is that? It’s only now I realize that more even than that: this is a salad with nothing but lettuce and dressing. Not even a watery pale factory tomato. The well-known Norwegian tendency to making all foods as pale as they can be manifests again.