DAY (AP) -- On a county road among a handful of homes, in a town too small to appear on state maps, an old wooden sign reading "Day Fish Co." creaks back and forth in gusts of blowing snow.
Waves of laughter filter through the walls of the tiny wooden store -- and then, even stronger, so does The Smell.
The smell of lutefisk.
"It smells good in here, don't it?" twinkles 72-year-old Walter Bolling, one of the proprietors.
Well, it does if you like the aroma of fish, accented by hints of salt, sourness and ammonia. And lots of people in these parts do -- or at least they pretend to at this time of year.
A Scandinavian delicacy, lutefisk (pronounced LOOT'-uh-fisk) is dried cod that has soaked for days in water and lye (both the Norwegian "lutefisk" and the Swedish "lutfisk" translate literally as "lye fish"). Reconstituted, lutefisk has a bloated, translucent, Jell-O-ish quality.
The appeal here is so great that the tiny business Bolling owns with his 65-year-old brother, Roy, turns this town of about a dozen people on its head during the holiday season. From the Dakotas, Wisconsin, even Montana, people come to the Day Fish Co. about an hour's drive north of Minneapolis to lug lutefisk home.
"Gotta have it," a giggling Billie Lindgren says as a scale on the counter groans under her 15 pounds of lutefisk. She drove about 60 miles for her holiday tradition.
"You've just gotta cook it right, nice and flaky," Lindgren explains.
Day Fish churns out about 50 tons during the holiday period from October to January for sale on the premises and in grocery stores. The market is considerable: More than a half-million Minnesotans declared some Swedish ancestry in the 1990 Census, said Marita Karlisch, the archivist librarian at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
Churches and other groups regularly throw lutefisk dinners. Day Fish is decorated with stickers reading "Long Live Lutefisk," "The Last Supper Served Lutefisk" and "Born to Eat Lutefisk."
Still, even in Minnesota, lutefisk is a bit of a running joke.
"A lot of people don't really like it, but it's traditional so they have it once a year and they deal with it," Karlisch says.
The Bollings set up shop 33 years ago when they couldn't find lutefisk elsewhere. They sold it for 30 cents a pound then; today it goes for $2.89 a pound or $3.29 a pound for skinless. The Bollings also sell Scandinavian favorites such as herring, walleye, Swedish sausage, lingonberries and lefse -- a flat, soft bread.
The fish is shipped from the North Sea of Norway once a year in October. It's then put into 420-gallon tanks of water, then lye, then water for up to 14 days. Day Fish workers use canoe paddles to stir the half-ton of fish contained in each of a dozen tubs.
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