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4 Emotional Lefse (and Lutefisk) Moments

Chuck Voigt, left, and I hold lefse rolling pins I made from ash and walnut trees that blew down on his Illinois farm. We were roommates at the University of Illinois and are fellow singers.

Memories and emotions are at the ready with lefse. It connects us with Grandma when Grandma is gone, and lefse causes us to rally and keep on rolling so eager grandkids can get in on this grand old tradition.

I’ve experienced three memorable and emotional lefse moments recently, and even one lutefisk moment.

The first was last weekend when I traveled to Bonfield, Illinois, to deliver to Chuck Voigt two rolling pins I made. Chuck and I were roommates when we attended the University of Illinois, Urbana, and we were pretty dang good singers in a campus group call The Young Illini. A derecho roared through his area two years ago and blew down trees. He asked if I wanted some walnut and ash for turning rolling pins, and I said sure. The wood needed time to dry, so I could not produce the pins last year. Plus, I needed time to improve my woodturning skills, so waiting until this spring worked just fine.

The pins I presented were beautiful. That’s how woodturning goes; you listen to the wood, uncover its art and then let it speak for itself. Where there were small cracks, I put in an inlay as a decorative filling. But the overriding beauty was in the moment. Old friends and old wood from a family farm converted into functional pieces of art that will last at least as long as our friendship has. We are both old enough to know that you don’t know what the future holds, that you take in these moments and savor them. For years and years, Chuck and I communicated once a year or so, but with the creation of these rolling pins, we were back and forth more in the last two years than in all the years since college. That is a good thing, to not let friends drift off and to keep friendships fresh. Chuck and I are going to keep on rolling!

Rolling pin with walnut barrel and ash handles. The wood was too beautiful to add traditional lefse rolling pin grooves, so it became a general rolling pin.
Traditional lefse rolling pin with ash barrel and walnut handles.

The second memorable moment was a few weeks ago when a man who has been bed-ridden for the last year and a half with Guillain-Barre Syndrome contacted me, wanting fresh lefse. It was a joy to make six rounds and then later 12 more so that his friend could pick up the orders. Lefse stays with you throughout life. You may leave it for one reason or another for a while, but it won’t leave you. I once made lefse at a nursing home, and a man started crying as he chewed a buttered round. He said he hadn’t had lefse in 75 years. Oh, the memories of that man and this man with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. That’s the power of lefse.

Lutefisk lip balm, always a hit!

The third memorable moment was a lutefisk moment last Christmastime. A woman wrote thanking me for providing Lutefisk Lip Balm, which is actually vanilla bean flavored. But it’s the label that sells this product, especially with the description of lutefisk at the side:”The Cod That Passes All Understanding”.

The woman said this about the Lutefisk Lip Balm. “My mom was in hospice at Christmas,” she wrote, “and it was the gift that generated the biggest smile! My mom just passed two weeks ago … “

The final moving moment was at the beginning of this month at Cragun’s Resort near Brainerd, Minnesota. I was rolling lefse and selling my stuff at the Sons of Norway District 1 Convention. I sold fresh lefse throughout the day, and fellow exhibitor, author and artist Sven Lindauer (The Art & Craft of Ancient Scandinavia), was primed for lefse at the end of a long day and asked that I save him two bags (six rounds).

He collected his two bags, and as I started to pack up, a dutiful delegate named Oscar entered the exhibitor’s room seriously seeking lefse. He was one of the delegates who actually attended the meetings he was supposed to, and only now had time to search for his lefse.

He was crushed when I said I was out, that my last two bags were just snapped up. The expression on Oscar’s face did not escape the eye of artist Sven. That’s what artists do, notice those things and paint them. (Sven mentioned that he was going to paint Oscar’s expression.)

Big-hearted Sven, who had been anticipating lefse all day and saying so many times, piped up and said that he would give Oscar one of his bags. Oh, the smile on Oscar’s face was actually noticeable, which is saying a lot for a Norwegian! Sven made Oscar’s day (week? month?) as well as mine. Sven knew the power of lefse, and we all knew the power of his sacrifice. Here’s to Sven … Saint Sven, Bringer of Norwegian Smiles and Other Miracles!

Author Sven Lindauer made the supreme sacrifice just to make a crushed, lefse-less Norwegian’s day. For that, he’s an early frontrunner for Lefse Person of the Year!
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How Not to Throw Lefse in the Wash

A disaster was averted when I discovered in the wash basket a perfectly good lefse round between dishtowels used for cooling the lefse rounds. Whew!

I was making lefse recently to fill a summertime order and couldn’t lay my hands on my lefse cozy for some reason. So I went old school and used dishtowels that I inherited from my grandma and others. The dishtowels work fine but are not as easy to open and close as the lefse cozies I sell, and they are not as colorful.

My lefse cozies are colorful and easy to open and close.

I finished rolling lefse to fill my order, and I had one lefse round left over, which I let cool between the towels. The customer picked up the order, and, occupied with what was next in my day, I started putting away my grill, turning stick, rolling board and rolling pin. I gathered up the dishtowels and threw them in the laundry basket.

Of course, when an abandoned lefse round is in the house, a lefse lover responds … eventually. A few hours after cleaning up, I was hankering for a lefse round with tea. I frowned and wondered where that extra lefse was. I searched all over the kitchen but no luck. Had someone else eaten it? No one confessed.

Luckily, I was scheduled to do the wash that day, and sure enough, there was the abandoned lefse round wrapped and wadded up in the dishtowels. I don’t want to think of the mess had that gone through the wash — and what a tragic loss of a good lefse that would have been!

The lesson for me was to use a lefse cozy. You don’t wad it up and throw it in the laundry as you do dishtowels. You just pick it up and put it in a mesh bag so that the sewing holding the two cozy rounds together won’t fray with the agitation of the washer. When you pick up the cozy, whatever lefse is in there simply slides out. No laundry lefse!

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2nd Annual Lefse Limerick Contest Winners

2022 Lefse Limerick Contest Winners

Wow! What a contest! The 2022 Lefse Limerick Contest produced such fun and fine limericks that it forced me to go to weeks of DOGGONE IT, MAKE A DECISION!! training — which I failed. It started, I suppose, with difficulty in choosing between Zoom and in-person. I blame it on carrying the burden/gift of being a Gemini.

But in my defense, these limericks were good and plentiful. One guy submitted 64 of them, and most of the entrants emailed multiple submissions, often with notes of thanks for offering the contest and giving them a chance to get away from the pandemic and the war and let loose the dogs of creativity! What a wonderful image of them noodling away at the kitchen table in winter’s bright slanting sun, with coffee and notebook and a grin to go with the limerick’s punchline.

This year’s contest was about lefse and love, not only about the fervor of loving lefse but also about the passion in loving someone. The charge was to do your best to follow the limerick’s engaging rhythm and rhyming. If you were a bit off in counting the beats, it hurt your chances slightly, but with just one slip, I let it pass.

So limerick lovers in Lefseland, without further adieu, I give you the winners of the 2022 Lefse Limerick Contest!

Margie Oloughlin, First Place

Margie Oloughlin, from Northfield, Minnesota, won the contest, and frankly, choosing the winner was relatively easy. Her entry had all the elements of a limerick — it reads with easy rhythm — and her combining lefse and love and passion and humor were spot on. Nice!

There once was a lefse-less Dane
Whose diet was woefully plain
Til she met a Norsk troll
And with him she did roll
And her night times were never the same

Under stars and the light of the moon
Lefse steamed amid kisses and soon
Through flour and frost
Their minds became lost
And the dish ran away with the spoon!

And for her wit, Margie wins the all-walnut lefse rolling pin below!

First place prize: walnut lefse rolling pin made by me.
John Ofstehage, second place tie, with Betty

John Ofstehage, from Greenwood, Minnesota, tied for second place with this limerick combining online dating and lefse:

Online dating, I’ll give it a go
My profile, I want it to show
That I’m a skilled baker
A great lefse maker
Seeking someone, kneading the dough
Sonja, second place tie, with Brandon

Sonja (last name withheld), pictured with son Brandon, tied for second place. Sonja is from White Rock, New Mexico, and her limerick has some sass!

My love, it is high time we ate.
What is this round thing on my plate?
It's lefse my dear.
Please try not to jeer,
Or we may not have a next date. 
Second place winners get this lefse cozy.

Third Place Winners

OK, I was doing pretty well in my decision making until it came time to decide on third place. Then my decisiveness got decidedly worse. So I finally decided to duck the decision and award all who were in my third-place file. In no particular order, they are:

Howard Hoganson

Howard Hoganson, from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, went on limerick bacchanalia and submitted 64 of them! My man! Here’s one:

Lefse is precious and blind
Each thin sheet is one of a kind
Mother them sweetly
And so completely
Love treasures so dear to the mind
Lisa R. Lukis

Lisa R. Lukis, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, saluted family tradition with this limerick. ‘Tates, btw, are potatoes.

Dad knows how to handle the ‘tates
‘Cause he hails from one of the greats
Norwegian great-gran’
Came to this land
Love and lefse were her sweet traits
Heidi Bacon

Heidi Bacon, from Red Wing, Minnesota, was one of last year’s winners. She’s back with this rather spirited limerick personifying lefse and butter:

There once was a lefse named Larry -
Sweet Butter he did want to marry
He gave her some sugar,
(She sure was a cougar)
But, uff da! She worth it? Yes, very!
Judy L. Halbakken

Judy L. Halbakken, from Bellingham, Washington, submitted a lefse photo that matched the beauty in the above photo of her in the Pacific Northwest. Here is her limerick that mixes lefse, love, and …

There once was a young Norsky man
Who said to his wife, "If you can
Make lefse — I'll love you
With love always true,
But lutefisk she made, and he ran!
Jim Leet, with pups whose mother is Valkyrie

Jim Leet, from Roseburg, Oregon, is another winner from last year. Judging from the above picture and the number of limericks Jim submitted, it’s puppy love with him and limericks. Here’s one:

If lefse’s your favorite food
Enhancing your Norse attitude
Your passion for rounds
As strange as it sounds
Just makes you a loveable dude 
Sheryl Hove

Sheryl Hove, from St. Paul, Minnesota, submitted eight limericks, and here is her winner:

The lefse took hold of his heart
They pledged to never be apart
Then lut'fisk she cooked
And he suddenly looked
Like, so how did this marriage start?
Charles E. Voigt and rutabaga

Charles E. Voigt, from Bonfield, Illinois, pulled away from his Herculean task of cracking some 2,500 black walnuts to write six limericks, including this one about black walnut lefse.

Black walnuts make lefse appealing,
Rolled with brown sugar and feeling.
The flavor’s intense,
We’re not on the fence.
You’ll love it, so don’t hit the ceiling!
Mardi Knudson

Mardi Knudson, from St. Cloud, Minnesota, proudly stands near the “Welcome Poets” sign, so you know her limerick has to have deep, deep thought and feeling. Here it is:

There once was a Norsky that cried,
"Make lefse dear Norwegian bride!"
Liv did roll those rounds
Feeding Leif big mounds
Till her hands and temper were fried!

John Ziegenhagen, from Minnetonka, Minnesota, was last year’s winner. John is a bit of a loose cannon with limericks, never afraid of inventing words to fit the line and always looking for the limerick gut punch. He submitted six limericks, and here’s one, influenced by the Bard, about a truly tragic kind of lefse love:

There once was a doofus named Romeo.
Who put in his lefse hemlockeo.
Poor Juliet took a bite,
And out went her light.
He’d killed her, of that, there’s no doubteo.
John Ziegenhagen

Portly Bard prefers not to use his name or reveal his location. He says he simply wants to be left alone to produce poetry and limericks, including this sweet winner:

True love is like lefse I'm told,
Hard work and delight to unfold.
If it's worth it today,
Make your lefse and say
"Next course is more Norse to behold."

All third place winners receive my lefse novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse.

Thanks, all lefse limericists who entered the contest. You have lightened the last couple of months, and let’s do it again next year. All of you who entered will receive the 2022 Let’s Make Lefse! Calendar.

2022 Let’s Make Lefse! Calendar
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2nd Annual Lefse Limerick Contest

Contest winner will receive an all-walnut lefse rolling pin—made by me—with a walnut stand.

Once again, I run the risk of offering a limerick contest, the 2nd Annual Lefse Limerick Contest that runs throughout the rest of the month of January until February 10, just before Valentine’s Day. Of course, the topic of all limericks is lefse and love! Email your lefse-love limericks to glegwold@lutefisk.com.

Let’s get right to the risk. Wikipedia defines a limerick as “a form of verse, usually humorous and frequently rude,” in five-lines. The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme, and the third and fourth lines, which are shorter, have a different rhyme.

The form originated in England in the 18th century and became popular in the 19th century. Wikipedia says, “Gershon Legman, who compiled the largest and most scholarly anthology, held that the true limerick as a folk form is always obscene … . From a folkloric point of view, the form is essentially transgressive; violation of taboo is part of its function.”

Wikipedia cites the following example is a limerick of unknown origin:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

A Clean Lefse Limerick

So you see the risk of running a Lefse Limerick Contest. To be true to form, a lefse limerick, it appears, should be “obscene” and “frequently rude” and a “violation of taboo.” Oh, dear!

Well, following the exact form of a limerick will never do in here Lefse Land. We have our fun with lefse and certainly lutefisk, but we are never rude or obscene. No, no, no!

And yet, it is possible to dance along the borders of the true limerick to create an entertaining lefse limerick. Check this out:

There once was a Norsky named Niles
He endured a rough month with the piles
He ate lefse — was cured!
So please rest assured
On those who love lefse, God smiles.

There, that wasn’t so bad! I dance along the border of the true limerick with mention of “piles” in the second line, but I never cross the line. You must admit, the limerick could have gone decidedly south after that. But it didn’t, and we end up with smiles.

A Lefse-Love Limerick

For the 2nd Annual Lefse Limerick Contest, you must write a limerick about lefse and love. After all, Valentine’s Day is approaching! Here’s one I just made up, for example. I couldn’t resist being part of the fun.

There once was a woman named Joyce
Who was faced with a difficult choice:
Pick lefse or Bob
And try not to sob
”Sorry, Bob, the lefse looks moist!”

Ok, your turn. Write a lefse-love limerick—including lefse and love is mandatory—and enter the contest. Keep it clean, remember! Check out this site on how to write a limerick. Do your very best with having eight beats in the first, second, and fifth lines with the last word in those lines rhyming. Then five beats in the third and fourth lines, with the last word in those lines having a different rhyme than the last word in the first, second, and fifth lines.

Send your lefse-love limerick or limericks to glegwold@lutefisk.com. Submit as many lefse-love limericks as you want until midnight on February 10. Winners will be announced February 14. Oh, winners will receive:

  1. First place: all-walnut lefse rolling pin and stand—made by me!
  1. Second place: Keep On Rolling Holly & Brass Cozy—Red Trim.
  1. Third place: autographed copy of my latest Book: Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse.
Final Rounds
  1. All limericks of note receive a 2022 Let’s Make Lefse! Calendar.

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Best Lefse-Making Tip #4

Sticking is a common problem for lefse makers. The blue pastry board cover is the solution.

In my classes — and perhaps in your kitchen — the biggest problem lefse makers have is with sticking. Nothing is more frustrating than to roll a beautifully round and elegantly thin lefse … and then tear the round because it sticks to the rolling surface! Not only does it ruin the round, but it also creates a trouble spot on your rolling surface. That darn spot will cause sticking throughout your lefse-making session.

My solution is to go big and go blue. Use a big 23 1/2-inch Keep On Rolling Pastry Board and cover it with a Blue Pastry Board Cover. With the big board — as opposed to the 19-inch board commonly found on the market — you’ll use less flour and have less sticking. You can use the whole board, rolling at the periphery versus just the center. I instruct my students to start rolling their round until it is about half the size of what they want the final round to be. Then turn the round and move it to a different spot on the board to finish. That way, they are not grinding away at that same spot typically in the center of the board, which will cause sticking sooner or later.

With the bigger board, you simply have more room to not only turn and move the round but also to use less flour — which makes for a cleaner kitchen. You move your round to a spot where you can see there is plenty of flour on the board already. How can you see? The blue cover contrasts with the the white flour (see photo), and you immediately see that the darker spot has potential to be a sticky spot that you avoid. So without re-flouring the board, you move your round to where you can see there is more flour than that dark blue spot. Things are not so obvious when you have a white pastry board cover under white flour.

So go big and go blue for less sticking and more satisfaction in lefse making.

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Best Lefse-Making Tip #3

Don’t skimp on butter and cream when making your lefse dough.

I was watching a YouTube video on making lefse. The recipe called for 6 cups of riced potatoes, which is twice the amount of riced potatoes in my basic recipe. OK, not a problem so far. But the video recipe had half the amount of butter and cream as what I use in my 3 cups of riced potatoes. Twice the potatoes but half the good stuff? They were skimping.

Yes, you can make lefse by skimping, and it will look like lefse and sorta taste like lefse. But why? Cost? Concerns about fat in your diet? Ok, you can save money with less butter and cream in your dough. And yes, you can cut back on the butter fat.

But don’t. Just don’t. Lefse is once or twice a year, and you want to go all in on making the best-tasting lefse you can. And when you consider the butter fat content per round, it’s not much at all. If anything, go a little strong with the butter and cream to not only bring out a richness in the flavor, but also to make the lefse tender and moist.

I recently switched to Kemps Simply Crafted Heavy Whipping Cream (pictured). It has 20% saturated fat, more saturated fat than the cream I was using previously. I immediately noticed a difference in the tenderness and taste of my lefse, and I am sticking with this cream. You may not have this brand in your stores, but I highly recommend going with a cream with the highest fat content.

So don’t be a skimper when making lefse. Not with your butter or cream, and by all means go ahead and use a rounded tablespoon of sugar instead of a leveled tablespoon. This is lefse, not less se!

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Best Lefse-Making Tip #2

Can switching to King Arthur Flour make much of a difference with lefse?

One of the joys of the marketplace is listening to customers. It’s gratifying to hear praise for my books, and it’s a joy to keep learning from other aficionados about the art of making lefse.

At one market years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Rev. Charles Colberg of Minneapolis, who lifted my lefse making to the next level — and I already made very good lefse. The tip: Switch to King Arthur Flour.

This tip was so simple that I pooh-poohed it initially. After all, flour is flour, right? Well, no, as I discovered. There are reasons why King Arthur Flour is twice as expensive as the flour I have been buying. It is never bleached and has a high protein content (gluten) that is carefully calibrated so that you have the same results every time you bake.

I was not put off by the price. I will pay what is asked if it makes my lefse better. And it did. When I rolled lefse for customers in the week before Christmas and for the Christmas Eve family gathering, my dough was velvety but tender. And my rounds were round with edges that were reliably smooth and not ragged. Same recipe I’ve always used but different flour.

Bottom line is I will never go back to another flour. Try King Arthur Flour and see how your lefse improves. Mix it into your dough and let the gluten work for a good 10 minutes. Then roll. Your edges will not look like the coast of Norway. They won’t be jagged, and your round won’t fall apart when moving it to the grill.

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Best Lefse-Making Tip #1

Bonnie Jacobs of Jacobs Lefse Bakeri and Gifts in Osakis, Minnesota.

For my second lefse book, Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, I interviewed Bonnie Jacobs (above) of Jacobs Lefse Bakeri and Gifts in Osaka’s, Minnesota. It was a wonderful day learning about how to make a massive amount of lefse to feed the lefse-loony masses at the holidays. At the end of the interview, I asked for her best lefse-making tip. Without hesitation, she replied: “Do it more than once a year.”

It gets a laugh when I repeat that line in my lefse classes, but it is the best advice. You learn best when doing, and the more you do the better your lefse gets. After learning from your grandmother or in a class, you make lefse making your own the more you do it. You fine-tune the recipe, maybe make a substitution that improves the flavor. You get better at rolling and grilling, which make your lefse better. You become more confident and satisfied that you are making an excellent food and carrying on a fine tradition.

So make lefse, and do it more than once a year.

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Markets, Classes—Back in Business!

Mehmet Erden, center holding Timmy, and Havva Ertugrul, right, and me last weekend at the Plate & Parcel Holiday Market at Wagner’s Greenhouse 6024 Penn Ave. S in Minneapolis. These two are my favorite customers at my favorite market.

Oh, it’s good to be back! Back at the Plate & Parcel Holiday Market and back doing my lefse classes in person and on Zoom. In both cases, we’re being safe in terms of the virus and we are still having fun.

Lefse Classes

I’ve had one in-person class and one Zoom class so far, and more scheduled as we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas. My in-person classes are limited to two people who are vaccinated and willing to wear a mask. My first included the team of Diane Chehadeh and daughter Jolie Chehadeh (pictured below). Usually, my classes have six students who often don’t know each other. They quickly get to know each other; that’s how lefse makers roll. The nice part of a two-person class is that it’s a bit more relaxed and intimate because the students know each other already and they can get down to having fun learning to make lots of lefse to take home. Sometimes, a memorable line is spoken or sung in humor or in appreciation of, well, of the potato, in this case. Jolie said this beautiful line about the the aroma and appearance of the spud: “Potatoes are autumn on a plate.” Nice!

Diane Chehadeh, left, and Jolie Chehadeh thriving in my first in-person lefse class of the season. Marks were worn except briefly for this photo.

My Zoom classes require that students have lefse-making equipment, or at least equipment that will work in making lefse. I send a list of equipment needed as well as my recipe to students in advance of the class. The advantage of a Zoom class is reach. My in-person classes are local, but with Zoom I pull in students from all over the country and even the world. My first Zoom class this year included Kristin Rogers and son Wyatt, pictured below, who live in Lewisville, Texas.

Kristin Rogers and son Wyatt were happy rollers in my first Zoom class of the lefse season.

Markets

Vendor tables are more spaced than they were two years ago at Plate & Parcel Holiday Market , and tickets and masks are required. In addition, air circulation is very good in Wagner’s Greenhouse, where the market is every Saturday and Sunday in November and December. Old friends stop by to talk lefse, and strangers who don’t know lefse always are captivated as they watch me roll lefse. I know they are not watching me but watching lefse being rolled. It’s a show stopper!

My favorite story from the market is when my grandson, Zo, took a break from helping with sales to ask if he could roll a round of lefse. I said sure. Two customers stopped and asked about one of my products. It wasn’t long, however, before I lost eye contact with them. They were nodding politely to my comments but were mesmerized by Zo rolling behind me. I didn’t dare turn around for fear that I was going to see a train wreck of a round being rolled. The customers soon had an astonished look on their faces, and one of them said: “I can’t do that!” I had to turn around, wincing in anticipation. There was a perfectly round lefse on the rolling board! Zo, who doesn’t roll lefse much, had pulled off a feat that many lefse makers never do.

The epilogue to this story was after the two customers moved on, I congratulated Zo who said, “Papa, you know what I’m doing here for you, right?” He smiled and rubbed his thumb to his fingerstips, signaling he wanted a tip for pulling in all the amazed customers. I gave him one, proudly.

Grandson Zo rolling lefse recently at my backyard Lefse Market. He and granddaughter Amaya help at the Plate & Parcel Holiday Market, which is gratifying for me and profitable for them.
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Potato Harvest Doubled!

Last year I had a yield of one bowl of potatoes, and this year I had a two-bowl crop.

Lefse lovers are potato lovers, and potato lovers are going to dig this: I doubled my yield this year!

The full story, however, is a bit disappointing. Last year, I planted three potatoes and got one bowl of russets. This year I planted five blue potatoes and five russets, and the yield was two bowls. The math is not good. The blue potato harvest made me blue. The potatoes were colorful little pebbles, and some of the bigger ones were the size of cherry tomatoes.

Now the russets were a different story. It was thrilling to spy a “lunker” swimming around as I turned the black dirt, and there were several of them that saved the day and made up most of the weight in my nine-pound crop.

The good yield of russets saved what could have been a pitiful potato harvest.

I had tried planting in the ground and then adding dirt above to build tiers of growing soil as the plant grew. Didn’t work too well, with just one russet producing tiers of potatoes. I will try this building up method next year, but I won’t go up as high as I did this year. And I will plant potatoes closer together.

Oh, well. Live and learn. Just as lefse got me into the Norwegian culture, potatoes are getting me into gardening. And that’s good.