Does anybody really enjoy eating lutefisk?

I’m not a great authority on the traditional Nordic fish dish. Until this summer, I didn’t think I had a drop of Scandinavian blood. Then my mother, who is half-Sicilian, told me that a DNA test revealed we have Viking genes – probably from raiders settling down in Sicily and intermarrying with the locals. That might explain why my great-grandma Fortunata had blue eyes.

So, imagine the funny looks my uncle, on my dad’s side of the family, got when he brought a dish of lutefisk to a family Christmas dinner, years ago. What did this gelatinous horror have to do with us?

The Southern Minnesota college where I took my associate’s degree was so proud of its Norwegian heritage that it had an annual lutefisk supper as an alumni fundraiser. It was a popular night with the students, because we all got to eat delivery pizza in the gym and didn’t have to go within sniffing distance of the “piece of cod that passes all understanding.”

But we descendants of the Vikings (nudge) aren’t the only ones who judge food on the premise “The more inedible the better.”

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My dad, who has a little bit of English mixed into his heritage among many other nationalities, likes his Christmas pudding, also known as fruitcake. You know, the gift that almost everyone accepts with a smile, then dumps in the trash as soon as the giver’s back is turned.

In the “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series, novelist Alexander McCall Smith depicts fruitcakes as a delicacy used to bribe folks into acts of service, like adopting children or repairing motors. The nuttier and fruitier, the better.

For most of us, however, the fruitcake is a holiday horror, dense and dry and full of indescribable things that look, feel and taste wrong.

My father’s secret is to souse the cake repeatedly in Kentucky whiskey until it won’t absorb any more. Then you can get drunk eating it – heck, you get lightheaded walking past it – and you don’t mind the stabby splinters of nut and the boogery bits of jellied green cherry so much.

This may be a universal thing. There’s a theory going around that an “acquired taste” is actually an addiction to something so objectively obnoxious that the body floods itself with endorphins, drowning the ick with an all-natural high.

Combine this with most people’s anxious desire to meet the standards of their social group – standards like being a fine judge of rank-smelling, jellied fish – and the hook is set.

Other examples could include strong black coffee, really bitter beers, the type of beverage that Peter S. Beagle describes as “furry black wine,” and melt-your-face-off hot peppers.

For my money, the all-time best inedible treat is a German holiday cookie called the pfeffernus, plural pfeffernüsse, also known variously as pepernoten, päpanät or, well, peppernuts.

It’s an anise-flavored sphere, about the size of a peach pit, and maybe just a little bit harder. If you drop it into a cup of piping-hot coffee and then drink the coffee, by the time you drain the cup your pfeffernus will be about soft enough to bite into, if your teeth are in good shape.

Before we had Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper, this was the thing you could park in one bulging cheek and keep tasting until it dissolved. Maybe it was essential equipment for beginning flugelhorn players, helping them to stretch their lips and build up a backup air supply. Or not.

Of course, if you don’t like black licorice, the taste may not be for you. That, besides the fact that in its un-coffee-softened form, it can only be attacked by gnawing, scraping teeth, is why it pretty much qualifies as inedible.

But oh, how yummy it is!