The long cold has descended upon us, bringing gray skies that look the way a headache feels. This can only be good, because the advent of cold weather means lutefisk season has once again arrived.     
My mother and I were the only two in our family of 10 who partook of lutefisk. We were outcasts, the only true believers in a clan of lutefisk infidels.     
I have visited Madison, Minnesota, a small town that bills itself as “Lutefisk Capital USA.” With a handle like that, you might assume lutefisk is so common that it is available in street-side vending machines. But the only place I’ve been able to find lutefisk is at the town’s modest grocery store.     
Once, while in Madison, I purchased a generous slab of yellowish, gelatinous, lye-soaked cod. Upon arriving home, I proudly showed my fishy prize to my wife.     
My wife is of German descent and reacted in a manner similar to that of a woman who had just discovered a skunk in her sock drawer.     
“Get that icky stuff away from me,” she exclaimed as she scrambled up onto a chair. I’m pretty sure this was merely mock terror.     
“Just take a whiff of this,” I replied. “This is fresh lutefisk. Nothing like it in the whole world!”     
“I already know how awful it smells. How can you tell if lutefisk has gone bad?”     
There seemed to be no answer to that question, so it must have been rhetorical.
I lugged the lutefisk to Mom’s house. She boiled it up, and we put away the entire thing. We drenched the codfish with melted butter and salted it to the point where it made us think of the ocean.     
Eating lutefisk can have a powerful effect on us Norwegians. It causes me to imagine the sweep of the roiling, steel-gray waters of the stormy North Sea. A dragon-headed longboat plows through the foamy swells, a wild-eyed bear of a man – wearing a winged helmet, of course – standing at the prow.     
I can clearly see a gathering of manly men in a great smokey hall, guys with names like Beowulf and Hrothgar, muscular males who chug humungous flagons of mead. Their wives have names like Thorhild and Skuld, strong, fearless women who never complain about the position of the toilet seat, never poke fun at their husbands’ scraggly nose hairs.     
When the Winter Olympics were held in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994, several Midwesterners of Norwegian descent opted to attend the games. Since they were in the Old Country, they decided to ask the locals where they could find the best lutefisk.     
“Lutefisk?” came the incredulous reply. “We don’t eat that crap. We catch and dry the cod and sell it all to those dopey Americans.”     
For me, nothing says “It’s the holiday season, so stuff yourself until you lapse into a coma” like the wondrous aroma of a steaming kettle of lutefisk. It brings back memories of holiday gatherings at my grandparents’ house, where lutefisk was seen as a vital part of the meal, no less essential than the flatware.
Sadly, no one else in my family feels the same way about lutefisk as I do. This is a cross I must bear. It’s difficult to be the only lutefisk disciple in a roomful of jellified fish atheists.
I recently spoke with an elderly guy who told me his parents would purchase lutefisk in small wooden casks back when he was a kid.
“You had to soak the lutefisk and change the water several times to remove the lye,” said the ancient codger. “If you didn’t get all the lye out, your mouth would spark.”
I didn’t have to ask what he meant by spark.
One Norwegian holiday tradition that has survived is lefse. For those who don’t know, lefse is essentially a potato-based tortilla.
My mother taught all of her daughters and granddaughters how to make lefse. On the evening before a holiday gathering, my sisters and our nieces will get together and crank out a pile of lefse that’s large enough to qualify as a geographical feature.
The next morning, they’ll butter the lefse and roll it up. Few things put me in the holiday feasting mood like seeing a stack of rolled lefse that could fill a logging truck.
As I tuck into the yummies, I’ll use a roll of lefse to mop up gravy or herd stray peas. And while it won’t be quite the same without lutefisk, I am deeply grateful for family and the opportunity to stuff myself until I feel like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.  
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.