The Vikings were able to sail long distances without starving to death because they had learnt how to dry white fish (mostly cod) in the open air. This dried fish, stokfisk, remained edible for years and was eaten either raw or after soaking in water – chewy and smelly no doubt, but very nutritious. In time, stokfisk became the staple diet of western Norway and remained so until the early twentieth century, with every fishing port festooned with massive wooden A-frames holding hundreds of drying white fish, headless and paired for size. Only in the 1690s did the Dutch introduce the idea of salting and drying white fish, again usually cod, to the Norwegians. The fish was decapitated, cleaned and split, then heavily salted and left for several weeks before being dried by being left outside on rocky drying grounds, klipper in Norwegian, hence klippfisk – or bacalao in Spanish. The Norwegians never really took to eating klippfisk, but their merchants made fortunes exporting it to Spain, Portugal, Africa and the Caribbean. The Norwegians did, however, take to eating lutefisk, in which either stokfisk or klippfisk is soaked in cold water and, at certain stages, lye, to create a jelly-like substance that many Norwegians regard as a real delicacy, though it is very much an acquired taste. The American storyteller and humourist Garrison Keillor would have none of it, suggesting in Pontoon: A Lake Wobegon Novel that “Most lutefisk is not edible by normal people.” Most will find it hard to disagree.

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