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Annual Election Day lutefisk supper more about food than politics

The Rev. Jeff Engholm prepares meatballs for Vinje's supper last year. Submitted photo

WILLMAR -- Forget Republican or Democrat. At the Vinje Lutheran Church lutefisk and meatball supper, held every year on Election Day, people align themselves with two different but equally polarizing parties: butter or cream sauce.

"The only thing political about our lutefisk supper is the strong divide between people who top their lutefisk with butter or cream sauce," said the Rev. Jeff Engholm, pastor at Vinje Lutheran Church. "People could debate about that subject for hours."

Vinje has been hosting a lutefisk and meatball supper every year on Election Day for 95 years. Engholm says it's one of the longest-running lutefisk suppers in the area, especially since fewer places are hosting lutefisk suppers these days.

"It's an acquired taste, but it brings back memories for a lot of people," Engholm said. "There are folks who just love lutefisk and pile it on their plates. That's why we continue to do this every year."

Nancy Hafner, faith formation coordinator at Vinje, said that for many people in the region, it's a tradition to come out for the lutefisk supper every Election Day. Her own father made the trip from Litchfield to attend the supper every year for about 40 years, she said.

But it's not just the elderly population coming out for lutefisk. "It's very interesting to watch more young people come out every year," Hafner said. "They might not share the enthusiasm for lutefisk, but it's a tradition we're passing onto them."

This Tuesday, Vinje expects around 500 to 600 people for its lutefisk supper, and it plans to prepare about a pound of lutefisk per person. All the lutefisk is cooked outside in a trailer to keep the "distinct aroma" out of the church as much as possible, Engholm said.

The Vinje Lutheran Church men's ministry group plans the supper and cooks all of the lutefisk.

"The church staff helps as we need to, but this is really a congregational event," Engholm said. "These men work very hard every year to pull off the supper."

Although the lutefisk supper always takes place on Election Day, it has nothing to do with politics, Engholm said. Vinje Church is a polling place, so it made sense to host the supper on that day. While presidential elections tend to draw a slightly larger crowd for the supper, weather generally plays more of a role than who is on the ballot that year.

"We actually try to shy away from political connections," Engholm said. "Our one political statement is simply, 'go vote and participate in the political process as citizens of the community and state. Then come eat with us.'"

This year's supper will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Vinje Lutheran Church, 1101 Willmar Ave. S.W. Tickets are $13 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 through 12 and free for children under 5. Takeout meals will also be available.

"It's a place for the whole community to gather together with their neighbors for a great meal," Engholm said. "Everybody's welcome, and if you come, you won't leave hungry."

For those who don't like lutefisk, the supper will also include meatballs, potatoes, vegetables and another Norwegian favorite: lefse -- which, aside from butter or cream sauce, is the only other hotly debated issue among those at the supper.

"White sugar or brown sugar?" Hafner said with a laugh. "It just never ends."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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