7 Iconic Wisconsin Church Supper Foods, from Lutefisk to Pierogies

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From creamy rommegrot to crispy krumkake and salty pierogies, Wisconsin church ladies make the best dinners.

When the nights get chilly, you know church supper season has arrived. Whether you’re a lutefisk fan or just showing up for the meatballs, here are some foods we love to see at church supper. These traditional foods also tell us the story of the origin of our ancestors.

Lutefisk: What were these Norwegians thinking?

The classic Norwegian Lutheran dinner here in Wisconsin features lutefisk, which gets its name from its ingredients: lye (lut) and cod (fisk). The dish is ancient, dating from the Viking Age in Scandinavia. The Vikings dried their cod for the winter. Then an enterprising Viking chieftain figured out that if you add the caustic chemical lye, it will reconstitute the fish into a jelly-like substance. We are not making this up. Wisconsin law had to be changed to clarify that lutefisk was not a toxic substance.

Pro-lutefisk make a bunch of mashed potatoes (or rutabagas, depending on the name) and top it with a little lutefisk and lots of butter.

While lutefisk is rarely eaten in Norway, it is still a matter of immigrants. And in the fall, you will find lutefisk suppers in many churches. The pandemic has not spared the lutefisk. A recent report from Minnesota alludes to a lutefisk shortage due to supply chain issues. So get your Laundry Reconstituted Jellyfish while you can!

A fork next to a serving of lutefisk at a Norwegian celebration at Christ Lutheran Church in Preston, Minnesota. (Photo via Jonathunder / Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Meatballs: the king of church basement food

Whether presented as Swedish meatballs, German meatballs, or Norwegian meatballs, the ladies of the church know how to cook them and they are always good. If you’re lucky enough to live near an Italian-American church, you’ll get the Italian kind in red sauce.

There’s even a Swiss meatball, which is served every year at the Swiss Church of New Glarus. The meatballs are part of the annual Kilby Supper, an annual event in Switzerland, which welcomes church members back from their summer farming in the high mountain meadows of the Alps.

At Polish church suppers, say “Please skip the Pierogies”

At a Polish church feast, entrees can be golabki (cabbage rolls), kielbasa (Polish sausage) or pork and sauerkraut, all served with parsley potatoes. But everyone is really there for the pierogies. These little stuffed dumplings are the best, whether they are stuffed with cheese, mushrooms or the traditional prune filling.

I can’t get more German than pork knuckles and sauerkraut

St. James Parish in downtown Madison has long been known for its pork knuckle and sauerkraut foods, which are mostly held in late winter. To cook the pork legs properly, cooks start a few days before, so that the feet have time to sit in their broth, which turns into jelly as it cools.

They are reheated, then served with homemade sauerkraut and cream of corn for a rib meal.

Lefse: what God gave us to compensate Lutefisk

These Norwegian immigrants knew a potato well. Lefse, if you’ve never had it, is a potato tortilla that’s so much more tender and delicious.

Purists like it spread with butter and a pinch of sugar then roll it up before tasting. Others have also spread lingonberry jam there.

And a truly innovative soul designed the Norwegian taco: meatballs and gravy wrapped in gravy with maybe a little more of that lingonberry jam for the ‘salsa’.


Lefse with butter and sugar. (Photo via Andrew Horne / Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-3.0)

Rommegrot: a funny name for a delicious dessert

Not all the white in a Norwegian church supper is as scary as lutefisk. Try rommegrot, a thick sour cream pudding, which is usually served hot and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

It’s delicious and excellent when served with these traditional crispy Norwegian treats of rosettes, sandbakkels, and krumkake.

Kolacky or Kolache? It’s Czech for Sweet Roll.

Wisconsin has several Czech communities, including those in Kewaunee and Manitowoc counties, one near Hillsboro and another in northern Grant County.

If you are lucky enough to attend a Bohemian church supper or festival, you might feast on kolaches. These sweet yeast buns usually have a filling of apricots, cream cheese, poppy seeds, or prunes, and you can’t eat just one or you’ll drive the church ladies crazy.


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