DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Church halls across Minnesota are keeping alive a dying culinary tradition by hosting lutefisk dinners.

Lutefisk is dried cod that's been soaked in lye. The Scandinavian dish was created as a way to preserve fish before refrigeration existed.

The population of lutefisk aficionados is aging.

Chris Dorff, president of the Olsen Fish Company in Minneapolis, the only high-volume producer of lutefisk in the U.S., told Minnesota Public Radio News that sales have been dropping consistently since 1995.

One of the places still holding lutefisk dinners is First Lutheran in Duluth. More than 1,100 people came this month for the church's annual lutefisk dinner.

Bob Ross, 69, of Grand Rapids, drove an hour and a half to attend the meal because of his passion for the dish.

"I crave it," he said. "I grew up with it, and I hated it. I couldn't stand it. But after you get away from it, you crave it."

When the meal is prepared right, it's light, flaky and delicious, Ross said.

"It's an acquired taste," he said.

Count Roger and Carol Chase travel around northern Minnesota to attend lutefisk dinners. They used to help host a lutefisk dinner at their Grand Rapids church, but the event stopped as interest declined.

"I looked around, and it's all silver-haired people," Chase said, recalling an earlier dinner in Bemidji. "You don't see very many young people. Pretty soon it will be a pizza party."

Despite the dwindling interest, the dinner tradition continues in many churches across the state.

"I think it's the nostalgic part of it, the fact that people are still reaching into their roots, trying to build traditions. I think that's such an important thing," said Bea Ojakangas, a cookbook author who has helped put on the lutefisk feast at First Lutheran Church for more than 30 years.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org