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Knife River fish cake dinner just a week away

By most accounts, if the Knife River Lutheran Church ever decides to go into the full-time restaurant business, it will have a steady and devoted clientele. But until it does, its famous fish cake dinner is available just once a year, so circle Oct. 25 on the calendar.

Now in its 86th year, generations of North Shore residents have attended the annual fundraiser, but according to the Rev. Susan Berge, it's far more than just a way to add to the church's coffers.

"From my perspective, the tradition of the fish cake dinners is rich and meaningful to our congregation because it both keeps alive the heritage of our Norwegian fisherman forebears and it draws folk from all along the Shore to celebrate community together, " she said.

Last year, 325 diners came and feasted on the silver dollar-sized patties; more are expected this year. The event has been attracting new fish cake enthusiasts, but it also has its share of those who return year after year, event organizer Kay Struve said.

"(They) come for the food and the hospitality. Our church is fantastic at welcoming people. It's a very welcoming community, and the pastor is fabulous," she said. "It's a fun event -- a fun, warm, inviting event. People come and tend to linger after eating just to visit."

Mark Torgerson of Knife River catches the fish and makes the fish cake batter -- 200 pounds last year -- from his grandmother's recipe. Struve, also a Knife River native, said it has been a favorite for as long as she can remember.

"My mother and his mother used to make them together," she said.

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As for what makes them so special, Torgerson was vague about sharing the secret, saying only: "Nutmeg, curry, onions, and that's about it."

Eight people will begin frying the cakes at 10 a.m., and by the time the doors open at 4 p.m. there'll be six roasters full and waiting for guests, along with 80 pounds of meatballs and an array of side dishes.

"Everything," Struve said, "is homemade, right down to the rolls and desserts."

In years past, lines of diners have formed outside the church, but Berge said they can now accommodate more visitors, so everyone should be served efficiently.

"There is occasionally a wait line, but since we expanded the church several years back, there is usually only a short wait, if any. Coming early is wiser than coming late, in case we should run out of anything, but we usually expect, and get, a great crowd," she said. And don't worry about having to stop on the way home to pick up a snack; both Berge and Struve say that portion sizes are ample.

"(People) should come hungry, because it's a generous serving," Berge said.