If you lived in southeastern Minnesota or southwestern Wisconsin in the late 1950s and 1960s, you may have purchased “Skarstad’s Delicious Lefse” from local grocery stores. My Grandma, Thora Skarstad, had a lefse bakery in her home in Holmen, Wisconsin. She was quite the business woman during a time when women-owned businesses were uncommon. Neighbor ladies (we called them “lefse ladies”) were hired during the fall and winter busy times, since everyone wanted lefse for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Lefse season was in full swing!
As the demand for Grandma’s lefse increased, Grandpa, James Clarence Skarstad, remodeled their home to accommodate the lefse business, and he marketed the lefse to grocery stores. Grandma’s recipe is somewhat unique; it’s dairy-free, unlike most recipes with cream and butter in the dough. In the days before preservatives, dairy-free lefse most likely kept longer in the stores. She experimented with numerous varieties of potatoes before settling on russet potatoes for her lefse.
The lefse-making process for Grandma and the lefse ladies began with potato peeling. An electric peeler was rigged up for commercial use to grate the peelings off the potatoes using a disc of heavy sandpaper. During the busy season, the lefse ladies peeled an estimated 1,000 pounds of potatoes per week! Then potatoes were boiled, mashed (with a commercial masher), and cooled overnight before flour and other ingredients were added. Then came the best part: shaping the dough into balls followed by rolling and grilling — and tasting!
Grandma had coffee breaks often, to “test” the lefse and to share the goings-on of the day.
We lived out of town, but we’d visit Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas when the lefse bakery was in full swing. I have fond memories of the lefse ladies and the lefse bakery. Even though my sisters and I were young, the smell of lefse and boiling potatoes still lingers, especially during “lefse season!”
Becky Latka lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and owns The Lefse Shoppe, an online store that carries her book about Grandma Skarstad lefse bakery. Contact her at BeckyL513@gmail.com.