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.
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.
This is an announcement of the first annual All Things Lefse Market next Saturday, October 16th, in my backyard. It is also a personal growth opportunity in that it encourages this Norwegian to do something un-Scandinavian: brag.
Do you know how hard it is for a Norwegian to boast? Certainly, some of you do. We’ve learned that tooting our own horn is just not done. If it’s good, whatever it is that you do or make, you don’t need to crow. No, no, no! What you do or make will speak for itself. In fact, if you speak for yourself, you and whatever you do or make are viewed with considerable suspicion, that your bluster is an effort to distract others from the flaws you are trying to hide. So, zip it. Let others speak for you and what you do or make — but when they do, you darn well better be quick to do a Norwegian Deflection in response, something along the lines of, “Shucks, it was nothing.”
Well, this All Things Lefse Market is not nothing. When I am at markets, there are all sorts of products to pull in customers, not just lefse. Not with this market. This All Things Lefse Market is an outdoor garden party featuring just lefse and all things related. I will be demonstrating lefse making, talking up my lefse classes, and showing off my lefse and lutefisk books. But that’s just a start. Yesterday, I spread all my lefse and lutefisk stuff over three large tables, and I certainly did not say that this spread was nothing. It was something, all the products I had developed over the years, very good products I am proud of.
There, it’s done. I sang my own praises and am glad. Sort of.
I hope you will be glad when you come next Saturday, October 16th, to the All Things Lefse Market between 9 am and 4 pm at 5205 Knox Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Weather looks great, and on display will be:
The most gorgeous heirloom lefse rolling pins and lefse turning sticks you’ll see anywhere. Think walnut, cherry, cocobolo, and spalted maple. These pins, including one I turned (my first), are made by members of the Minnesota Woodturners Association.
Lefse earrings, yep, made of lacquered lefse.
Lutefisk lip balm.
Lefse grills and replacement parts.
2022 Lefse calendar.
Lefse jigsaw puzzle.
Lefse rolling board and special blue rolling board cover.
Lefse rolling pin socks.
Colorful lefse cozies.
Vibrant countertop protectors for under your lefse grill.
Lefse hoodie that says “Lefse is cheaper than therapy!”
Lefse song score for voice and piano, also for men’s quartet.
Walnut flower vases.
Lefse and lutefisk greeting cards.
Nostalgic lefse mixing bowls.
Compression socks for making lefse all day.
Please come to the first annual All Things Lefse Market next Saturday 9 am to 4 pm at 5205 Knox Ave. S. in Minneapolis. It’ll help launch the lefse season and help me not feel rueful for tooting my own horn.
If there is a product for our times, it is this one. The pandemic has been rough, but I’ve maintained throughout that lefse — and now the new Lefse Hoodie — can smooth things out a bit.
How can a hooded sweatshirt help? Here are four reasons to consider the Lefse Hoodie.
Humor — it’s funny. “LEFSE is cheaper than therapy” makes us smile, which is not always easy for Scandinavians in the best of times. Henry Ward Beecher, an American clergyman and abolitionist whose sister was Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote: “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”
Function — it’s warm. There are notions that people lose up to 80% of body heat through their head. The US army manual from 1970 said, no, the percentage is 40% to 45%. However, more recent research says it’s really about 7%-10% lost through the head because the head is about 7% of the body’s surface area. True, the face, head, and chest are more sensitive to changes in temperature than the rest of the body, making it feel as if covering them up does more to prevent heat loss. But the real issue is people don’t want to cover their head because a covering will mess up their hair or hide their face, making them less attractive. Hey, the Lefse Hoodie is so attractive, you won’t mind flipping up the hood and pulling on the drawstring to stay warm. Also, you can keep your hands warm with the front pouch.
Fashion — it’s cool. This black hoodie is so cool that Amaya, my 13-year-old granddaughter who is ever so vigilant about rejecting clothing that is not IN, exclaimed immediately when she saw the Lefse Hoodie: “I want this! Oh, Papa, I want this!” Nuff said.
Sanity — it’s helpful. Next time you feel you’re about to lose it, slip on the Lefse Hoodie. It’ll help. Seeing the word “therapy” on the hoodie may stimulate you to call your therapist and set up an appointment. All good. In the meantime, you can make some lefse, which certainly helps your mental health. For example, say you have crippling issues with perfectionism. Lefse teaches you humility and acceptance. Or you have shame about not making lefse as good as your mom or sister. Lefse teaches patience, and making lefse builds self-confidence. Or you’re pained by how stingy and uptight you tend to be. Give away some lefse and learn about the benefits of generosity.
Lefse gets you out and with others. You are not isolated, which can make you blue. Lefse makers often make lefse with family or friends, and they have fun. So the Lefse Hoodie fits right in. And even if you do a solo act, you are not alone. You have all those great lefse-making and lefse-eating memories to warm you. Remember this last line from my first book, The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories and Recipes Too!: “Never alone and seldom sad, the life of a lefse maker isn’t so bad.”
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.
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!
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, butthe 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…
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!
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).
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!
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.”
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!!
Sometimes in our youth (think high school and college age) we do things just so we can eventually say we’ve done them. Kind of like building your resume to eventually impress your grandkids. Thus, I decided to make lefse on a canoe trip.
You don’t have to have high-tech equipment to make lefse, and at the time and on that trip I certainly adhered to that principle. Nevertheless, things were kind of primitive. I was on a float down the upper Mississippi River in north central Minnesota. Normal canoe trips involved portages and keeping weight to a minimum, but there I really didn’t have to carry gear or the canoe around anything. Nor was I backpacking, so I went a bit heavier on provisions. While I was heavier on provision, I still didn’t have a proper rolling board, pastry cloth, rolling pin, griddle, or flipping stick. Time to improvise.
Make Do to Make Lefse
Finding the flat rolling surface was easy. I just turned over the canoe and used the flat part of the hull bottom. Rolling pin? Easy — a beer bottle worked, although a wine bottle would have been better. I had a cheap aluminum frying pan and pancake turner, which kind of worked. Still being somewhat primitive, I used a cooking fire instead of a heat-controlled specialty griddle.
Ingredients were easily solved with instant mashed potatoes and pancake flour. Instant mashed potatoes weren’t as good in the middle 60s as they are now, but they worked. And of course, this was an experiment. I don’t recall exactly what I used for shortening in the dough, but it was probably bacon grease. Anyway, I somehow got the dough rolled and into the pan and kind of cooked.
Texture and cosmetics were primitive, but then a judging panel was not present so I ignored those subtleties. As I recall, the lefse was surprisingly tasty — must have been the bacon grease — but then I wasn’t making it for refined tastes. It might also have involved the hunger generated by paddling all day.
My techniques have improved in the last half century or so, but making lefse on a canoe trip is still a fond memory. If I were to make lefse while out camping these days, it would be a bit easier to do it in my motor home. But the biggest challenge today would be to get the canoe into the motor home to roll out the dough!
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:
John Ziegenhagen — Minnetonka, MN
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.
Steve Seim — Wheatland, WY
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 SpudWho was known around town as a dud
Ate lefse galore
And hoping to score
But Lena had eyes just for Bud.
Jim Leet — Roseburg, OR
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.
Heidi Bacon, Red Wing, MN
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.
Reid Trulson, Collegeville, PA
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.
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.
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.