Nordic Fest

Follow the Lefse to Decorah’s Nordic Fest

On July 27-29, 2017, Decorah, Iowa hosted its annual celebration of all things Norwegian, aka Nordic Fest. I drove up to this city in northeastern Iowa on Saturday, the final day of the festival,  to see what made this celebration special.

This year marked the 51st year of the festival, which turns downtown Decorah into a mini version of Norway. Water Street, the main thoroughfare lined with interesting shops and restaurants, is blocked off from vehicular traffic. Booths offer traditional Norwegian foods such as lefse (a potato-flour flatbread cooked on a griddle), kringla (soft buttermilk cookies), rommegrot (porridge made with sour cream, flour, milk and butter), and ligonberry juice and slushies. More substantial foods were also available: bratwurst, locally sourced hamburgers, pork chops on a stick (reminiscent of the Iowa State Fair!), meatballs, sandwiches, and roasted corn just to name a few of the delicacies.

Lefse food vendor at 2017 Nordic Fe
Lefse food vendor at 2017 Nordic Fest

The event also featured food demonstrations. In the lobby of Bank of the West, I watched a volunteer make krumkakke, which are thin cookies made on a special griddle then formed around a wooden cone while still hot. The volunteer told me that the griddle (which looked like an electric waffle iron) and cone were for sale at a store down the street, and she also said that at home she serves krumkakke as an accompaniment to ice cream.

Krumkakke demonstration
Krumkakke demonstration: rolling the hot cookie around a wooden cone

The Vesterheim Museum hosted demonstrations of traditional Norwegian folk crafts such as rosemaling (an example of this type of painting is the blue dish against the wall in the photo above), wood carving, knitting and other fiber arts, as well as blacksmithing, forging, ropemaking, and other practical arts. There were plenty of arts and crafts opportunities for kids as well as games and sporting events, although I didn’t personally view any of those events which included canoe races, rock throwing, and a Lutefisk eating contest (lutefisk is dried fish that is rehydrated by soaking in lye for several days, then cooked; this dish doesn’t sound particularly appetizing to me!).

The festival also offered many chances to enjoy live musical performances. I enjoyed two performances on Saturday afternoon: first, a concert by students in Decorah schools’ drum line, followed by the guitar/vocals duo of Chris Avey and Jeni Grouws who played country, rock, blues, and original songs. There were many more music acts throughout the weekend, and all were free except for entertainment in the “Beverage Garden” for which there was a $5 charge covering both Friday and Saturday nights.

I stayed overnight in a dorm room at nearby Luther College, for a reasonable $46 charge. Next year I’ll plan to stay for the full weekend and take advantage of some of the area tours offered. Next year’s festival is scheduled for July 26-28, 2018. For detailed information about this year’s event, check out the Nordic Fest flyer.

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