Posted on Leave a comment

State Fair Lefse Contest

That’s Mary Lou Peterson, masked at the recent Minnesota State Fair, proudly posing in front of her lefse entry.

I’ve known Mary Lou Peterson for years. I visited her home and, as she made very good lefse, interviewed her for my second lefse book, Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. We stay in touch. That’s how lefse friends roll.

So a few weeks ago she emailed and mentioned casually that she was entering a lefse contest at the Minnesota State Fair. I had not heard of this contest, but I pleaded with Mary Lou to write up her experience for a blog. I mean, this was big time and very few lefse makers — who often take pride in making lefse that’s second only to Grandma’s — have the courage to enter such a contest and then learn their lefse is not the best. What??

Mary Lou is bold by nature, up for most adventures. So here is Mary Lou’s account of her State Fair Lefse Adventure.

I have this to say about the Covid quarantine: It plays with your brain. You get ideas and talk about them to people — who remember what the idea was and KEEP REMINDING you of them. My idea involved lefse.

I’ve been making lefse a long time, and the family brags about it. I’ve passed the talent of rolling a round lefse to my children and grandchildren. Well, I learned of the Creative Activities competition for ethnic breads at the Minnesota State Fair. The entry could be a bread from any country, so Norway’s breads were only a small piece of this division.

I had not competed in any baking contests since I was in 4-H. Back then I traveled to the Minnesota State Fair after winning at the Roseau County Fair. One year I made a potato casserole in a demonstration in front of judges, and a second year I made a Baked Alaska. I decided to enter this year’s State Fair contest because people enjoy my lefse and I have time since I’ve retired. It was time to test my baking ability by submitting four perfectly delicious rounds and then sit back and wait for congrats to arrive.

Once Mary Lou committed to the ethnic breads contest, it was time to do the work of rolling and grilling lefse. What a cool grill!

A quick lefse lesson: It starts with cooking russet potatoes with the skins on for extra flavor. Peel them easily when the potatoes are cooled a bit. You enlist your husband to do the ricing. He might as well be part of this since he eats it.

I cool the potatoes with the margarine, salt and sugar and mix it well. In the meantime, I pull out the grill, lefse stick, special rolling pin, and the board and cover used for rolling. I also have a towel ready to cover the rounds. Most important, I get butter and sugar for testing my lefse (quality control, you know).

I add flour to the potato mixture and work it well. Then I make a ball with the dough and roll it thin until I can read the writing on the board cover through the rolled out round. Using the lefse stick, I move the round to the hot grill and wait. It’s at this time the ricer husband returns to be “the hot-off-the-grill lefse tester”. It passes the test!

The Final Four! Mary Lou chose these as her best of the batch, ready for submission to the State Fair contest.

Lesson over, now back to the contest! I finished the rest of my batch, cooled it, and selected the four best. I took off for the fairground on Saturday morning. My entry had to be in between 9:30 am and 1 pm. I made the deadline, but the line was down the sidewalk and around the corner of the Creative Activities building! Oh oh — competition!

I handed the four best rounds of lefse ever made to the entry table and went home to wait. Thursday came and results were in. Excitement abounded as I and my husband returned to the State Fair and hurried to see my lefse entry displayed and then to collect my reward.

Sorry to say my opinion of perfect lefse and the judge’s opinion were not the same. No ribbon…

Mary Lou’s lefse on display at the State Fair, beneath the lefse that placed third in the ethnic breads contest.

The winning lefse received third place in the competition. Baklava won and potica got second. Quite a variety  to judge! Three plates of lefse were put in the display case for viewing, and mine was one. Oh, well, there is always next year!

Mary Lou Peterson

Posted on Leave a comment

Sad Day in Lefse Land

This is the kind of person who attends Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota—and a big reason why I open my lefse season there each August … except this season. Again.

Yesterday was a sad day. I finished cancelling all my lefse-related speaking gigs and selling events that I had scheduled for late August and the fall. Covid.

Kate, my daughter, just came home from three weeks in the hospital, mostly in intensive care with Covid. She has harrowing tales of not being able to catch her breath for days on end, not eating, not sleeping. Alone. Dark days of wondering if this was to be her time and if so, whom she would seek first in heaven. She says she felt our prayers.

She’s much better, looks great, and has some of her normal energy and all of her humor back. But she still needs an oxygen boost now and then and has hand tremors, which mess up her writing and her plans to return to her work as a chef. But she’ll make it back.

This sobering experience in our family and the Delta variant — which is nearly twice as contagious as previous variants and just as contagious as chickenpox — that is causing case numbers and hospitalizations to increase has led to my decision to not speak at an indoor event in New Ulm, MN, and not be a vendor at Potato Days, one of my favorite outdoor festivals in Barnesville, MN. This will be the second straight year of not selling at Potato Days as well as at the big Scandinavian festival, the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, ND, which cancelled for the second year in a row because of Covid.

Like many, I had high hopes for things opening up. But Kate’s episode, the Delta variant, the varying vaccination rates, the breakthrough cases, etc., have all caused me to decide to miss another lefse season of meeting other lefse lovers, yakking and yukking it up in person (see image above).

Turn the Page

So that was my yesterday, a sad day. Today, while I am again going into a near shutdown mode, I hope this time is shorter than the first. I certainly will not sit out the lefse season. I will still sell a rather large inventory of new lefse-related products on Lefseking.com, mask up and make lefse for sale locally and for overnight shipping, as well as hold online lefse classes again this season.

Talk about making lemonade from lemons! My Zoom classes last year were flat out fun because I could continue to teach people the grand old tradition of making good lefse, and I could teach them anywhere in the world. Indeed, some families used the class as a safe replacement to their annual lefse fest, and one family pulled in family members from here and there in the United States as well as in Afghanistan and Singapore. Very cool!

So let the online lefse classes begin! Let me know and I will teach just you or you and your 11 cousins. The idea is to learn to make lefse and keep on rolling!

Posted on Leave a comment

The Joy of Shipping Lefse

I made 15 rounds of lefse the same day I overnighted the rounds double bagged. The package went from Minneapolis to Michigan and arrived fresh and in time for a 60th birthday celebration. Now that feels good!

The joy of lefse. I’ve made so much of it and for so many years that there are times I forget the simple joy lefse brings to those who eat it and to those who make it.

This is a story about Jean Ostvoll, whose husband would enjoy good lefse on his 60th birthday, thanks to Jean. I knew he’d love the lefse, but I didn’t know how much I would enjoy making it for him and then shipping it to Jean from Minneapolis to Michigan.

I sell lefse made the same day that customers pick up the order. That’s the only way I fill orders. No freezing. This means I have sold only to locals who pick up. That was the case until Jean emailed me:

“Hello, Gary! So — I know you say you won’t ship outside of the Minneapolis area because of shipping costs, but if I were willing to pay overnight FDX would you ship to me in Michigan? My husbands 60th birthday is June 26 and he is always pining for good lefse. He is from Stavanger, but we have been here for 20 years now…and still looking for good lefse. I’d like to surprise him for his birthday! Please let me know….I would be interested in 5 packages of 3.”

Jean Ostvoll, Union Pier, MI

When I had received these requests from lefse lovers in far-flung places, I‘d decline because people don’t want to pay the overnight shipping needed for freshness. Or at least that is what I assumed. But Jean anticipated that and said she’d gladly pay. Okay then! We agreed on the details of getting the lefse to her, and the excitement of giving kicked in. A line came to mind from the Saint Francis Prayer: “For it is in giving that we receive.”

Jean Ostvoll’s gift to her lefse-starved husband on his 60th birthday was my fresh lefse.

I made the lefse and overnighted it to Michigan. Here is Jean’s account:

For everyone trying to find that something special for the guy who has it all and wants nothing…..the answer is Gary’s handcrafted Lefse.  My Norwegian husband (who is shy and wants to remain anonymous) misses home.  I frequently buy Norwegian food items on line when I see them and think they might approximate the real deal.  I rarely score.  This year was the big 60 for him and I was getting desperate.  Then I read about the Lefse King in The Norwegian American — a birthday gift from another year! I was so psyched — until I read to the bottom of Gary’s site where he says he doesn’t ship because of the high cost of overnight shipping — which I totally get.  Undeterred and knowing our good friends would let me use their FedEx small business account — and associated discount — I negotiated a trial with Gary.  He was game and grilled the lefse the morning of the shipment to ensure maximum freshness. The next morning they arrived, carefully packed, in perfect shape and cool.  We just had a birthday lunch that was a HUGE success — lefse traditional style with butter and cinnamon sugar.  And I’ve already had a request for more variations for “coffee and cake” time this afternoon, lol! My husband even went so far as to say they tasted (almost!) as good as his mother’s back in Stavanger — and he immediately emailed her pictures of them. It was a treat for him and a wonderful moment for us all as we watched him enjoy and reminisce about home. Thank you Gary — and the best money I ever spent on a present!!

Jean Ostvoll

To Jean, I say it was my pleasure. And to anyone else in need of good lefse no matter where you are, click here to make it happen!

Posted on Leave a comment

Lefse Limerick Contest Winners

From upper left and then clockwise: John Ziegenhagen (1st place), Steve Seim (2nd tie), Heidi Bacon (3rd tie), Jim Leet (2nd tie), and Reid Trulson (3rd tie).

Lefse limericks are like potato chips. You can’t eat just one chip, right? And you cannot, it seems, write just one lefse limerick.

This was impressed on me as soon as limericks started rolling in for the first Lefse Limerick Contest announced in last month’s newsletter. Limericks came in bunches, and many contestants were having so much fun writing them that they quickly followed up their first batch with a second batch of wacky lefse limericks.

Judging was difficult — hence the ties — because they were all so full of the spirit of the limerick. Some people stated that this was their first attempt at writing a limerick because writing poetry was not their thing. But they could not resist, and once they did one, well, shoot, they had to do it again and again!

I think the attraction in writing limericks is that, by definition, they are supposed to be edgy, bawdy, and ribald. Not raunchy, but on the edge — and certainly not with a lefse limerick. Many contestants could not go near the edge, and some did not nail the limerick‘s meter, the long-established basic pulse and rhythm of the poem. But our winners did, and here they are:

1st Place

John Ziegenhagen — Minnetonka, MN

John Ziegenhagen

John was the clear winner and is, at least to me, a natural with limericks. He willingly went to the edge without crossing the line, and he was prolific, writing at least three that were superior. This was the one I chose as the winner:

There once was a man named Scupper
Who ate beans with his lefse for supper
He walked with such poise
To avoid a big noise
But, boy, his cheeks they did pucker.

2nd Place

Steve Seim — Wheatland, WY

Steve Seim

Steve got so excited about the limerick contest that he dashed one off … about lutefisk. Forgivable, since one is more willing to go bawdy with lutefisk than lefse. But he collected himself and wrote this winner:

There once was a guy they called Spud
Who was known around town as a dud
Ate lefse galore
And hoping to score
But Lena had eyes just for Bud.

2nd Place

Jim Leet — Roseburg, OR

Jim Leet at Nordic Fest in Decorah, IA.

Jim beat the end-of-April deadline with four submissions that were all giggles. But this one stood out and earned Jim second place:

The lefse was taken by Sue
Who tucked it inside of her shoe
Her ultimate goal
Was patching her sole
But now she had lunch with her too. 

3rd Place

Heidi Bacon, Red Wing, MN

Heidi Bacon

Heidi had to be a winner because she was the only one bold enough to feature herself in the limerick. At least I think the Heidi in the first line is the Heidi pictured above. Anyway, heeeere’s Heidi!

There once was a Norski named Heidi
Whose kitchen was much less than tidy
When lefse was rolled
The stories were told
Of Grandma whose legend was mighty.

3rd Place

Reid Trulson, Collegeville, PA

Reid Trulson

Now, c’mon, doesn’t Reid (pictured above) look too distinguished to stoop to writing a lowly limerick? Well, he could not help himself, apparently, but justified his submission by stating that his mission was “to extol the benefits of lefse.” Okay. As you see below, he starts out taking the high road, but dips into an edgy limerick sweet spot at the end.

A diet of lefse is cool
Eliciting no ridicule
It also has use
As a substitute snus
That eliminates troublesome drool.

So there are the winners of the first annual Lefse Limerick Contest. Let’s do it again next year! Winners will receive prizes starting next week. First place wins an heirloom lefse turning stick, second place the score of my lefse song “Keep On Rollin'”, and third place a pair of Go Long Lefse Socks, graduated compression socks from Burlix. Congrats!

I leave you with one more limerick from John Ziegenhagen (told you this guy was good):

There once was a dude who made lefse
He rolled it while driving his Tesla
But he went off the cliff
Lost his life in a jiff
And the lefse burned up — what a Messla!
Posted on Leave a comment

How Grateful? Very

More than 100 books were mailed last month for my customer-appreciation offer.

People who are overcome with gratitude will often say something like, “I am so thankful. I cannot express just how grateful I am.” And it’s true; gratitude cannot be quantified or magnified by adding words, in many cases. Don’t get me started on how a heartfelt “Thank you” cannot be topped by the gushing cliche of the times: “Thank you so much!” “So much” adds nothing and subtracts a bit of sincerity, IMHO. So please, leave off the “so much”, thank you.

But I digress. Last month I wanted to express just how grateful I was to my customers who allow this lefse train to keep on rolling. So free books were offered to anyone who emailed me. I did this last year and sent out a dozen or so free books, so I thought I’d do it again. I sent out the March enewsletter that included the free books offer.

I casually checked my email the night I sent out the offer, and there were scads of responses, like around 50. Yikes! I started adding up the shipping cost. Hmmm… . I have never done this before with my newsletter, but the next day my better-business self sent a follow-up “What was I thinking?” newsletter that said the free book offer would end at the end of the day.

So, after two days of checking emails and shaking my head—in gratitude—and then two more days of my grandson Zo and me stuffing envelopes, 105 books were lugged to the post office. I left my boxes overnight so that I not overwhelm the postal clerks.

When I returned the next morning to pay, I started to think that maybe you can quantify gratitude. I mean, shipping 105 books has to mean a ton of gratitude to my customers, even shipping at media rate, right? And certainly wasn’t I showing deep gratitude to my Canadian customers, since it is indeed a high price to pay for shipping anything to our northern neighbors?

After paying and as I folded up the 10-foot long receipt that listed all the tracking numbers, I reflected on what had happened. At the end of the day, I was glad for making the offer. I really was. I was grateful that there was so much interest in lefse and lutefisk books in this slow off season, and that people were expressing their gratitude for a chance to receive the books that I was glad to ship out. It was one grand gratitude fest, people thanking each other for thanking each other. I was especially gratified that most requests were for the book I have a special place in my heart for, my lefse novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. Very cool!

So I end with the only thing I can say, simply, to my customers in Lefse Land.

Thanks.

Posted on Leave a comment

Lefse Limerick Contest

Best lefse limerick writer wins this walnut-maple lefse turning stick.

At considerable risk, I run the first ever Lefse Limerick Contest throughout the rest of the month of April.

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.

Ok, your turn. Write a lefse limerick—including lefse is a must—and enter the contest. Keep it clean, remember! Check out this site on how to write a limerick.

Send your lefse limerick or limericks to glegwold@lutefisk.com before the first of May. The winner of the Lefse Limerick Contest wins the above Best Handle Ever Lefse Stick-Walnut Handle.

Second place winner gets Keep On Rollin’: A Lefse Song for Voice and Piano

Second place winner gets the score for this song, still at the top of this month’s Best Lefse Song list.

Third place gets the ultimate in comfort when on your feet rolling lefse: Burlix Graduated Compression Socks—Black.

Third place winner gets graduated compression socks that help you keep on rolling when you’re standing a long time yet on a roll making lefse.

Again, send your lefse limericks to glegwold@lutefisk.com before May 1, 2021. Good luck!

Posted on Leave a comment

Making Coffeehouse Lefse

I’ve started making lefse for Sparrow Cafe, a coffeehouse in Minneapolis. Sparrow serves lefse the traditional way, with butter and cinnamon sugar, and then gets creative with this: Nutella and bananas on lefse.

When the pandemic hit, Sparrow Cafe went down. This coffeehouse had thrived at the corner of 50th and South Penn Avenue in south Minneapolis. I liked that they were nearby and weren’t a chain. They were locally owned by Jasper and Sheila Rajendren, who knew, I would think, that they had to be better than the chains in order to to be as good. And they were.

Sure, I like Starbucks and Caribou and Dunn Bros as much as the next coffee lover, but I like to support fellow hard working, do-all-jobs small business owners when I can. By the huge windows at Sparrow, I wrote sections of my last two books, Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round and Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. What kept me coming back was a rich, chewy gluten-free brownie muffin, espresso, and rooibos tea. The brownie muffin was served on colorful non-paper plates (probably earthenware), the expresso with a small, charming non-paper cup and a tiny spoon, and the tea steeped in a small glass pot that filled with a non-paper cup twice.

Sparrow went that extra mile to satisfy customers, but it still wasn’t enough to prevent closing last spring. The neighborhood mourned, but then we all delighted when Sparrow re-opened in a limited fashion for carry-out customers late last fall.

Sheila and Jasper Rajendren, owners of Sparrow Cafe, a bright and cozy coffeehouse in south Minneapolis.

Shortly after the re-opening, I approached Jasper and Sheila about providing lefse they could sell, thus setting Sparrow apart from other coffeehouses. I don’t know of a Minneapolis coffeehouse, and only one St. Paul coffeehouse, that sells lefse. I said I would provide the lefse free and deliver it every Saturday morning at 7:30. It was my small way of helping small businesses that have been hammered by the shutdown. They said sure, why not? Nothing to lose.

The deal meant making lefse dough on Friday evenings and getting up around 5 a.m. to make 15 rounds of fresh lefse. When I felt sorry for myself for having to get up so early on a normally sleep-in Saturday, I remembered that Jasper and Sheila get up at 2:30 a.m. every day but one to open the store by 7 a.m.

I’ve been making lefse for Sparrow Cafe since December, and now that customers have taken to lefse — not much doubt about that — Sparrow pays me. I’ve made lefse in a lot of places and in front of a lot of people, but making lefse to sell to customers who may not know about our favorite food is exciting. I press myself to make my best lefse, and it gives me a chance to do my weekly lefse-making meditation in the still, wee hours of the morn.

And then there is the joy and satisfaction of a job well done and of being a successful lefse ambassador. Of carrying a steamed-up bag of pretty dang good lefse into a warm Sparrow Cafe, ordering a cup of dark roast to go, and hearing about how customers are taking to the traditional lefse with butter and cinnamon sugar. But hand it to Sparrow for getting creative. They’ve rolled out lefse with cream cheese and lingonberry jam, which I have heard of but not tried, as well as lefse with Nutella and bananas, which is new to me. I’m going to try that, and I hope you do as well.

Posted on Leave a comment

Need Lefse Inspiration? See Monica

Monica Olsson hit the lefse floor running, learning to make lefse and then freeing her creative juices by creating lefse wraps.

Every once in a while I get a note or an email reminding me why I write books and teach lefse making. This email came late last Saturday evening from Monica Olsson, who gave permission to let you enjoy it. It reads:

Thank you so much for writing your book, Keep On Rolling!

I bought it on a whim at a Scandinavian store near where I live. My dad’s family is Swedish and my mom’s Norwegian, but I didn’t grow up eating lefse, and certainly not making it. I have enjoyed eating it occasionally, but never thought about making it myself. Then I read your book, and grew fascinated. I tried to make a small batch of the one-hour lefse without any of the equipment — no potato ricer, no fabric-covered board, etc. It did not turn out very well. (I think the main fault was that I didn’t cook/mash the potatoes properly. Now that I have a little more experience, I think I would do better.)

My boyfriend’s mom is Norwegian, and she bought me ALL the lefse-making supplies for Christmas! So I tried again. I’ve made it five times so far, and just tried your recipe (from the Keep On Rolling book). It was my first time making lefse from real potatoes instead of flakes. They turned out SO well, and I am so happy about it!! My boyfriend and I spent the day making lefse and just ate dinner: folded lefse wraps with cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers, red onions, and arugula (see photo above). Delicious.

Thank you again for your book! Without it, I doubt I ever would have gotten so excited about lefse-making, and I am so happy I can do it now!

Monica Olsson
Think Monica Olsson loves making lefse?

I have to praise the mom of Monica’s boyfriend, who bought all the lefse equipment. What support!! And then what impressed me about Monica’s newfound passion for lefse making is she is young and therefore going to be a lefse ambassador for decades to come, presumably. She cares enough to keep trying to make good lefse after making lefse that was not so good. Reminds me of my lefse beginnings. And then she’s pleased when she makes a round round, making her a lefse maker after my own heart.

Many lefse makers, including me, have a quest of rolling a round round that’s thin. I like that Monica has that drive.

The other thing that makes my day is she is creative with lefse and willing to have fun with this Norwegian flatbread. She could have stopped with rolling a round round and serving it with butter and sugar. Nope, she got wrapped up making creative wraps using ingredients like those below.

So what kind of lefse wrap shall me make? That was the question and here are some of Monica’s answers: salmon, tomatoes, onions, peppers, arugula, and egg.

As I said, I read Monica’s email late Saturday evening. So, inspired by Monica, I had the best time making this Sunday morning lefse wrap made of a spread of sour cream (I didn’t have cream cheese), capers, arugula, red onions, and salmon with lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper. Served with grapefruit juice and black coffee … bring on the day!

Grapefruit juice, coffee, and a lefse wrap of salmon, capers, arugula, sour cream, and red onions. Oh, yeah!

It’s my turn to express gratitude. Thanks, Monica, for infusing energy and creativity into Lefse Land. Keep on rolling!

Posted on Leave a comment

A Wonderful Walnut Christmas Story

Oh to be a walnut tree

Give food and shade for years

And when I’d go, I’d surely know

My wood would still bring cheers

Gary Legwold
The walnut tree that stood for decades on the farm of Diane Tott near Roland, Iowa.

When a derecho roared through central Iowa last summer, folks scrambled for shelter and for a definition of a term they had not heard. This windstorm was monstrous and menacing, like nothing they had seen, and they were reminded of the true meaning of the word awesome.

A walnut tree on Diane Tott’s farm near Roland, Iowa, went down in the storm. It was part of the family, a calming constant on this land that is a few years shy of being a centennial farm (in one family for 100 years).

Diane contacted me in late August to see if I could help her pull off an ambitious project: to have five lefse rolling pins made from the wood of this walnut tree. Diane wanted to give the rolling pins as Christmas gifts.

I sell Heirloom Lefse Rolling Pins, so this was a project of interest to me. There were many challenges, such as cutting the tree into manageable logs and then getting the wood to Minnesota, where my master woodturning friends would create the five lefse rolling pins.

Beautiful walnut logs from the Iowa farm of Diane Tott.

Diane arranged for the tree to come down and the trunk be sawed into 20-inch lengths. Bob Tott, Diane’s husband, loaded four of these sawed logs into his pickup and drove them to my house in Minneapolis. The plan was I would put the logs into my Prius and drive them to a kiln in Hastings, Minnesota, where the logs would be sawed into 4-in. x 4-in. lengths and then vacuum kiln dried. These 4x4x20 blanks, once dried, would be used to make the barrel and the handles of the lefse rolling pins.

I had underestimated the size and weight of the walnut logs, which turned out to be way too big for my Prius.

Bob arrived at my house, and my jaw dropped when I saw the size of the four logs. If he were to have rolled them off the truck bed onto the ground, they probably would sink all the way to the center of the earth they were so heavy. No way I could fit them into my Prius, even if I could lift them. So after some head scratching, Bob volunteered to take the logs to the kiln in Hastings.

Fast forward a month, and I had 71 dried walnut 4x4x20 blanks in my Prius and was driving home. Bob Puetz had agreed to make the five rolling pins on his lathe, and he came to my house to pick up 11 blanks. He wanted extra in case there were any surprises inside the blanks. That’s part of attraction with woodturning, that the beauty of the wood is hidden—or not there at all—and only reveals itself once you start turning and slowly removing wood.

Uh-oh. The drying in the kiln produced cracks in the walnut blanks, meaning the project was in jeopardy.

Bob started working on the blanks immediately, but stopped soon after he began. Talk about surprises! The kiln drying had produced cracks that ran the full length of the pieces he had worked with, which meant he could not use these pieces to make the barrel of the turning pins. He tried piece after piece, and decided to use the five blanks that had the fewest number of cracks.

Right around Thanksgiving, Bob had managed to pull off the creation of five beautiful walnut rolling pins that, according to Diane wishes, had crosshatching, not just grooves going one way around the barrel. I met Bob at a Menards parking lot and would have wholeheartedly shaken his hand—maybe even hugged him—had not the pandemic interfered.

Bob Puetz pulled a few rabbits out of the hat to turn on his lathe these five walnut rolling pins for Diane Tott.

The first week of December, I met Diane at Love’s Travel Stop along I35 near Albert Lea, Minnesota. Turns out we had met a few years ago when I spoke at the Sons of Norway meeting in Story City, Iowa. I had wrapped the pins, and there was no small amount of anticipation as she unwrapped each of the five pins. As she did, I explained the drama with the drying of the wood, and gave her some of the bad blanks that Bob rejected. She was thrilled with the result, and I was relieved. She had her very special Christmas presents for some very special lefse makers in her life.

Diane Tott was overburdened with walnut lefse rolling pins and overjoyed with what will be five very special gifts this Christmas.

Coming full circle, I asked more about the walnut tree and what it had meant to her, her lefse tradition, and her Christmas celebrations through the years. So I leave you with Diane’s reflections:

Growing up on the farm near Roland, I remember this tree and a second tree placed near a very busy part of the farm, which was owned and operated by my dad and his brother. Our families lived on the farm and spent many hours playing near these trees, which held a tire swing and a bag swing. Later, I remember routinely harvesting the walnuts. We used an antique corn sheller to remove the husks, washed the walnuts, and let them dry. During cold, winter nights, my dad often sat and shelled the walnuts, which my mom would later use in her baking. Mom and Dad’s grandchildren and great grandchildren have helped with harvesting. Granddaughter Janel (my daughter) did a purple-ribbon Iowa State Fair 4-H project detailing the harvesting process. During that project, we learned we could flood the husked walnuts with water, keep the nuts that sank, and then discard the “floaters.”

I would also note that my side of the family has Norwegian and Dutch heritage. Lefse has been a big part of our family Christmas traditions. We make “hard” lefse [no potatoes]. Our lefse is traditionally served with cod, riced potatoes, just the right amount of salt and pepper, and a hard boiled egg and butter mixture. We roll them into a beta and hold it in two hands when eating. (It just doesn’t taste right if you have to eat it with a fork. Ha!). My husband, Bob, is responsible for having added salsa to the beta “recipe,” and there are now several family members who use salsa as well. We all remember my grandmother’s wide eyes the first time she saw Bob bring a jar of salsa to the Christmas table, but she became accepting of this crazy new twist. Our Christmas meal is often topped off with a lefse with butter and sugar. 

Diane Tott

Posted on Leave a comment

5 Tips for Making “Perfect” Lefse

Stuck lefse? Save it with sawing.

Now is the time for all good lefse makers to come to the aid of their culture. It is the pre-Christmas crunch time when demands for lefse—and unmerciful expectations of excellence—are high. Time to step up your lefse game and get on a roll!

So, I will give five tips for making “perfect” lefse. Specifically, I’m talking about making round rounds, as opposed to rounds that look like amoebas. Tip to geography teachers: Use lefse making to help kids learn the states of the US and the continents of the world. It is common for lefse makers to roll rounds that look like Texas, Ohio, Australia, and Africa.

I make a point to discuss the quest of making perfect lefse in my lefse class (only five more Zoom classes before Christmas). I even sing a song to this poem I wrote for in The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories—and Recipes Too!

“ISS CALLED LEFSE FOR A PURPOSE”

O Lord it iss hard to make lefse

Dat iss perfect in every vay.

To roll dem so round and so tin

Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho—dat vill be da day!

To know lefse, ya sure, iss to love it

No matter how tick, tough, or dead

And if lefse vas s’pose to be yust right

Ve’d call lefse “yust rigthse” instead.

My point to perfectionists such as myself is to ease up. Yes, go for lefse ecstasy of the round round, but if you don’t get to the promised land, oh well. Keep on rolling.

Given that, if you enjoy the quest for a round round as I do, here are five tips:

  1. 1. Use King Arthur’s Flour. Or use a high-quality, high-protein flour for making dough and for rolling. It makes for a velvety soft dough, and the edges of the round are much less jagged than when using a cheaper flour. When your edges aren’t jagged, your chances of round rounds go way up.
Can switching to King Arthur Flour make much of a difference with lefse?
  1. 2. Start round, stay round. I spend a lot of time making lefse dough patties that are round and that also do not have cracks at the edges. A little crack in the patty gets to be a big crack in the round. So start with a round round and then take your time to keep it that way as you roll, especially as the round rolls out to be 6 to 8 inches in diameter. That’s the critical time. If the round stays round in these early inches, you have a good shot for a round round when you finish rolling.
  2. 3. Light on the pin. Do not be a banger or a squisher. Gently place the pin on the patty and let the pin do the work without any help from you. You start squishing that poor round, and suddenly a part of the patty squirts out of whack and you can’t get it back. Easy does it, and rotate the pin often to keep your round round.
  3. 4. Saw your round free (see opening image). Once you get a round round, you are not home free. You have to get it to the grill without incident. That incident is often sticking. You get drawn into the rapture of rolling a perfect round, and you fail to detect that sticky spot that will become a tear—bringing on tearing and gnashing of teeth. It’s always a good idea to run your turning stick under the finished round and “saw” your way through any sticky spots before lifting the round to the grill.
  4. 5. Use a pizza cutter.
Chuck Ihlen from Pipestone, Minnesota, demonstrates a winning way to get lefse perfectly round.

When all else fails, do what Chuck Ihlen from Pipestone, Minnesota, does to get a round round. He places a grease splatter screen on his finished round and uses a pizza cutter to trim away whatever dough is not in the round area under the screen. And if you turn up your nose at this, consider that Chuck did this in full view of the public and still won the National Lefse Cookoff, which is part of the Potato Days in Barnsville, Minnesota.

Maybe the best tip for making perfect lefse came from Bonnie Jacobs of Jacobs Lefse Bakeri and Gifts in Osakis, Minnesota. I interviewed her for Keep On Rolling: Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, and she said this: “Here’s my best advice on trying to make perfectly round lefse: Do it more than once a year.”