Blaine Pederson emailed from Starbuck, Minnesota, last week that Larry Kittelson had died unexpectedly at age 80. When I researched The Last Word on Lefse in 1992, I interviewed six of The Boys of Starbuck, as I called this group nine men who came up with a goofy idea for Starbuck’s first Heritage Days in 1983: Make a lefse so big that it would go into the Norwegian Schibsted Book of Records.
Larry Kittelson could not make it to Gordy’s Cafe for the group interview back in 1992, and I regretted not meeting this baker who had owned the Pastry Shoppe. Larry made the dough for the World’s Largest Lefse — and then reformulated it at the 11th hour when a trial run had failed. Larry was key because, as all lefse makers know, if you don’t have the dough, there ain’t no show.
When I researched Keep On Rolling! in 2017, I was sad to learn that all The Boys had died, all except Larry. So it was a joy to finally meet him and ask him to tell me the story, for old time’s sake, of the making of the nine-foot, eight-inch monster lefse. Here is a portion of the interview, which you can read in entirety in Keep on Rolling!:
Legwold: The dough for this monster lefse was made up of 30 pounds of potatoes, right?
Larry: Right, instant potatoes. Potato Buds. We also used flour (35 pounds), sugar (1 pound), powdered milk (1 pound), and shortening (4 pounds).
Legwold: In the week before the actual event, you had two practice times. Why?
Larry: We didn’t want to look like idiots. We put plywood on a hayrack and covered the plywood with a sheet. The first practice night, we rolled with regular 3-foot-long pins from the bakery. And when we had the lefse all rolled out, we put it on the big roller. When we hauled it over to the grill, it fell apart. We tried it on a second practice night and added puff-paste shortening used to make apple turnovers. It helped hold the dough together. We chilled the dough well, and used more charcoal to get more heat under the grill. So the second practice went better. We didn’t do another trial with the puff-paste shortening in the dough. It was like, “This here will work or else.” I figured it would work on the day of the event, and it worked like a charm.
Legwold: How thin was the world-record lefse?
Larry: About as thin as that napkin there. It wasn’t thick by any means, like the thickness of two normal lefse stacked on top of each other.
Legwold: Did it bubble up on the grill?
Larry: Yep, just like regular lefse.
Legwold: After you accomplished the feat of making the record lefse, why not quit? Why did you try again right away—especially when that second one fell apart?
Larry: I made a batch twice the amount we needed, and I wanted to use up the damn dough. I didn’t want to waste the rest of the batch. That second time didn’t work as good, but luck was on our side with the first one.
Legwold: Other towns like Clarkfield and Madison [both in Minnesota] called for information on how to beat your record, right? What did you say to them?
Larry: An outfit from Washington state also called, and they wanted to try to break our record. I think I even gave them my recipe. I don’t remember. I probably didn’t give them the secret about the puff paste (laughs).
Legwold: Did this event put Starbuck on the map?
Larry: It sure did for a while. It really helped. You know, anything a small town can do nowadays to get itself on the map helps. We had the World’s Largest Lefse and Heritage Days in 1983, and Lefse Dagen started in 1987. That record lefse brings a lot of people to town. It gives us some bragging rights.
Larry, you were a fine man, a civic leader, and a good baker who brought joy to many who enjoy a tasty treat with coffee. You were also a lefse maker who made lefse history — big time — and someone who I will always remember fondly.