My name is Pam Anderson. No, I was not named for the Bay Watch Babe. I acquired the surname 32 years ago this June 3rd when I married David. He’s about as purebred Scandinavian as you can get. His Norwegian mother Aldoris Paulson was born in the old country. His father Jerry, still playing horseshoes and bridge at 91, is 100% Swedish.
I’m still not quite sure how people who migrated from countries with rocky coastlines and quaint little fjords, ended up in the landlocked plains of South Dakota. David says it’s because a few million years ago the Great Plains was just ocean bottom, which is why it’s so endlessly flat. I guess these Nords could still smell the sea in the loam.
As David’s ancestors migrated from craggy coasts to vast plains, they traded the mother cuisine along with the land. There were the occasional kringle cookies and lefse, and when his grandfather moved in, they had to find a ludefisk source. Other than that, his mother assimilated and cooked like a Midwestern housewife. Breaded frozen perch was as close as David got to his ancestral culinary roots.
Even though he didn’t grow up on Scandinavian fare, David’s always had a taste for it. Unlike a lot of guys, he gets excited when I serve things like seafood and cabbage and beets. I was never more aware of this than the other night when our friends Per and Jeanne Sekse asked us for dinner. Per (Norwegian for Peter) is the real deal.
It was a Tuesday, and I was expecting weeknight fare. Instead Jeanne served one of the most extravagantly satisfying seafood chowders we’d ever eaten.
As a cook, I appreciated the chowder’s utter perfection, abundant with oversized scallops and shrimp, big chunks of flaky cod and salmon, sliced potatoes and mushrooms all bound with crab-enriched cream. It was rich, pure, fine.
But David experienced this dish at some primal level. Even though he didn’t grow up eating it, this creamy seafood concoction spoke to him. As we were leaving, he asked Jeanne for the recipe. (He’s never done that.) Said he wanted to make it. When Jeanne offered him a quart to take home, he didn’t politely refuse.
The next day was vegetarian for us, but we both had night meetings and we came home tired and famished. There sitting in the fridge was that Norwegian seafood chowder. We caved.
That night was different. Now the chowder spoke more to me. As we ate, I remembered my maiden name. Skipper. There may have been some seafaring English in my past. But my love of the ocean is born of direct experience. I grew up catching scallops and fish and buying shrimp off the boat in Florida, this country’s most coastal state.
Taste memories are almost indelible, especially when they smell of fish and the sea. For me, the memories are just a few years gone; for David they seem ancient, floating like a recessive gene in his blood. Then again, maybe this fish yen is just what happens when you turn fifty—a corner we’ve both turned—and start popping a little fish oil pill every day.