Lars Thorvold, age 12, of Duluth, Minnesota, is in a tragic situation. The lady who has been making lutefisk for St Olaf's (Missouri Synod) is on the injured list and
...Lars' father -- Gustav Thorvold, of Duluth's Lars and Sons bakery, and one of the most conspicuous Norwegians between Cloquet and Two Harbors -- promised everyone in St Olaf's Fellowship Hall that there would be no break in lutefisk continuity; his family would step in and carry on the brutal Scandinavian tradition for the benefit of the entire Twin Ports region.
The lingering smell of the lutefisk did nothing for Lars' social life, but by age 18 he had ...become a wizard in the kitchen and by his unintentionally mastering the tragic hobby of lutefisk preparation its potentency was skyrocketing. Lutherans were driving from as far away as Fergus Falls to try the "Thorvold lutefisk," and there wasn't an attractive young woman among them.
Lars hated making lutefisk and complained bitterly. Take some pride in your work, son," Gustav said, and took away his lefse in punishment.
Admittedly, most of J Ryan Stradal's novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is not that sardonic but it is entertaining throughout. Lars' daughter, Eva, who is weaned on pureed pork roast and heirloom tomatoes, becomes a chef. The rest of the novel is a set of stories telling us how she learned to cook her signature dishes: walleye, venison, pepper jelly, and succotash, along with pork shoulder. My favorite is the part where her cousin quits growing pot and gives her his equipment and she experiments with raising very hot peppers in her bedroom closet.
One of the things that Eva hated the most about being a kid was how everyone always told her that childhood was the best time of their entire lives, and don't grow up too fast, and enjoy these carefree days while you can. In those moments, her body felt like the world's smallest prison and she escaped in her mind to her chile plants, resting on rock wool substrate under a grow light in a bedroom closet, as much a prisoner of USDA hardiness zone 5b as she was.
...Eva's last batch of chocolate habs was just over 500,000 Scoville heat units, according to ... friends at the Iowa State Food Science Lab, and that number was unbearable for most people. This new crop Eva estimated at close to double that, giving her chiles a heat index almost halfway to Mace.
The people you meet in this book are very real. I know some of them. Other names and other places, but I'll bet you know them too.
The book has lots of recipes, unusual for literary fiction, and these are recipes you could actually use in your own kitchen, wherever it is.