For lefse folks, there are advantages to wearing masks in this pandemic. Two come to mind:
We are introverts. We proudly display this bumper sticker: I’M A SOCIAL VEGAN—I AVOID MEET! So a mask is a godsend. It helps limit transmission of the virus, and it helps us hide. It covers our flat affect and scowls, which is good. Who wants to be seen as a sourpuss? So with a mask, we can frown away to our heart’s content. The drawback, of course, it that a mask hides our gorgeous smiles … but we are very stingy with smiles anyway. In Keep On Rolling! Life of the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, lefsemakerCordell Keith Haugen told me: “I think the only time I saw my grandmother Mari Haugen smile was when she offered lefse.”
We can say something without actually saying something. Again, we are introverts, so feelings have to ricochet through a labyrinth of cultural no-nos before they escape to the frightful freedom of expression and vulnerability. But by wearing a lefse mask with KEEP ON ROLLING! front and center, we don’t have to utter a peep. People see a lefse mask and smile, which, heck, may even make us smile! And the mask can preach a succinct sermon at a time when we need resiliency and hope.
Normally, this is lefse festival season. If not for the pandemic, I would be itching to travel to the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, ND, in two weeks to greet old friends and sell new lefse and lutefisk products. But the Hostfest was cancelled, as was Potato Days in Barnesville, MN, where I have sold my stuff in August for years and have been a judge at the National Lefse Cook-off.
I am sad about losing a year of lefse festivals. But I am glad that this year I planted a few potato plants and yesterday passed a pleasant afternoon hour harvesting five pounds of what seems to me to be rather jovial spuds of not insignificant size, thrilled to be freed from the dark underground and at last basking in the warm sun. These potatoes will make the dough for what undoubtedly will be my best batch of lefse ever!!
The potato yield was small consolation to the loss of going to the lefse festivals, but consolation nevertheless. Plus the digging and excitement of discovering—you never know how many potatoes will be there and how plump or puny they will be—unearthed special memories of Potato Days and Barnesville.
Pity the poor potato. It’s packed with flavor and nutrition, and yet typically people display pathetically little potato appreciation. They deem it to be lowly and grubby, and they disparage the dirty little tuber, using phrases like “small potatoes” and “couch potato.” The spud doesn’t see the light of day until it’s yanked from the muck, sliced, fried, mashed, riced, rolled, or whipped—and then greedily gobbled up.
Thankfully, there are people in our midst who find the potato to be most appealing. A. A. Milne, who wrote books about the thoughtful and steadfast Winnie-the-Pooh, praised the potato right proper when he wrote, “What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
Pardon the promotional potato preamble (I lose perspective regarding potatoes), but it helps explain why we are in Barnesville. Lefse lovers are pretty decent folks who applaud the pomme de terre, holding it high because it is the fundamental ingredient in the most fantastic food this side of heaven. When it’s lefse time, it’s tater time—and it’s tater time all the time during one potato-packed weekend in this northern Minnesota town (pop. 2,570 in 2013). Barnesville’s annual Potato Days Festival in late August pulls in around 20,000 spud lovers who participate in events that embrace all things potato—including the National Lefse Cook-off. With good food, kooky contests, silly stuff you have to see to believe, and a gripping lefse competition, Barnesville’s food festival is a must stop on the Lefse Trail.
Let’s stay safe and hope that Potato Days and the Norsk Hostfest make a big comeback next year.
Being a poet of sorts and especially inspired by lefse and lutefisk, I wrote last month about the non-winners of Ingebretsen’s HaikUff-Da Poetry Contest. I was judge in the Christmas Foods and Traditions category. The non-winners I featured were good but they were non-winners because the poems had too many syllables in a line; haiku is strict about five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. Also, I was bound not to write about winners because Ingebretsen’s had not announced winners yet.
Well, the names of winners have been released, and the winners in the Christmas Foods and Traditions category are from New Mexico, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Who knew there were so many far-flung lefse and lutefisk haiku poets out there?
I must pat myself on the back because I am partial to lefse and lutefisk, and it was disciplined work not to favor haiku about my favorite foods. But I did it. The winner in my category, Doug Mattson from Albuquerque, NM, wrote about herring. So, good job Doug and good job Judge Gary!
At long last, I can honestly say I have arrived! The honor of being asked to judge the Haikuff-Da Poetry Contest is … well, it’s the culmination of a career of writing four non-fiction books on lefse and lutefisk as well as my most recent book, a lefse novel called Final Rounds. How can I explain just what this honor means to me to judge the Christmas Traditions and Food Category, the highest of all categories, indeed? I have judged lefse contests at the top of the lefse world at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, ND, and Potato Days in Barnesville, MN. I have sung my lefse song “Keep On Rollin’” on stage at the Norsk Hostfest and at scores of speaking engagements. I have had the privilege of teaching hundreds of people to make lefse in my classes. But these career triumphs are merely prologue to judging the Haikuff-Da Poetry Contest. Yes, tears are choking my words, so I lean on the lyrics of Cole Porter when I say it’s the top, it’s …
The Tow’r of Pisa The smile on Mona Lisa The most—it’s the max!
Winners will be announced July 31, but I can give you a sneak peek of the quality of each haiku. These are four haikus that did not win because, perhaps in their excitement at pulling off a haiku about lefse or lutefisk, they did not adhere to the strict rules about the first line must be five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the third five.
Lutefisk, a food? You lye if you make it, and You lie if you like it.
Lutefisk or Glögg Uff-da what a choice that is Maybe I’ll just have both
Hot fire crackling At the window a frost bead My lefse sizzling
These are good and it is too bad there was a syllable miscount with each. Who knows, one of them might have won. Anyway, high marks to Ingebretsen’s for hosting the second annual Haikuff Da Poetry Contest. Check for the winners July 31.
One thing the pandemic has done is increase my appreciation for the things I have, including my health and family—and my customers. I am glad you are there year after year supporting my books and all things lefse and lutefisk.
Therefore, I offer any one of my five books free! This is good for one of my books for today only (Wednesday July 15, 2020), so hop on this one-day deal by emailing me at email@example.com.
You can link to descriptions of my books to help you decide which one book you want to get free, but don’t order online. If you do, you will be charged, which means the free offer won’t be free. Again, to take advantage of the free offer for one of my five books, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Today only.
Concerned about a shipping charge? Not to worry. Free is free, and you won’t be charged for shipping. But that is only if you email me at email@example.com and specify which of my five books you want free. Wednesday only!
In normal times, I interact with countless lefse and lutefisk customers at festivals, markets, and book signings as well as during my lefse classes. We cover the waterfront about such things as modifying your old lefse grill to be able to fit the newer probe control models (see photo). But these discussions are not happening with the pandemic, and I miss talking shop with my lefse and lutefisk chums.
Therefore, I am opening the Lefse & Lutefisk Mailbox.
If you have a question, tip, or idea about equipment or ingredients or techniques for preparing and serving lefse and lutefisk, let’s talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org … PLEASE!
Lefse friend for life David Sumnicht said as we played a recent round of golf that he had picked up a lefse book that wasn’t mine. Of course I knew that authors other than me had been moved to write non-fiction books about lefse, but I was intrigued when David said this book was a novel. Well, well!
When I describe my novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse, I call it my lefse novel if I am in a rush. But it is actually about grief. A 12-year-old girl’s grandfather dies. While she mourns his loss, she delights in the lefse-making memories they shared, especially one night of 26 inches of snow when they had little choice but to make 630 rounds of lefse and examine Papa’s eight rather goofy rules of life.
I have read and recommend The Invention of Lefse: A Christmas Story, by Larry Woiwode, Poet Laureate of North Dakota and writer in residence at Jamestown College. His work has been featured in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic. He’s an honored and awarded writer, so I was thrilled that, like me, he also has found inspiration in this humble flatbread lefse.
The novel is only 63 pages, and I was driven to find out why lefse was invented. There is the suggestion of lefse half way through the book, but it is not until page 51 that the word lefse appears. It has been invented out of desperation and transforms the Christmas meal of a Norwegian family in the first decade of the twentieth century, two years after Norway gained independence.
How do I set prices of my rolling pins and the other lefse products?
I should explain first that I am proud to work editors, illustrators, photographers, and designers on my books, and I pay what they ask because I know them and trust that they are quoting a figure that is fair to both of us.
Again, I pay providers what they want. Too often, creators of art and fine products are underpaid and are forced to “settle” on a payment they are not happy with. Not with me. I pay their fair price and then add on a dollar amount that feeds my business. The sum is the price of the product.
Typically, the retail price is split 50-50. That is, the provider of the product and the seller each get half of the retail price upon sale. With me, it’s a 65-35 split with the provider getting the 65%.
I could charge more to be in line with standard practice in the marketplace, but customers would then have to pay more—or they may not pay at all. Or I could lower prices by driving a hard bargain with providers, and driving them away. I don’t like either of these options, so I go with a 65-35 split. It pays to be unique in the marketplace, especially when I can be fair to provides and customers alike.
I didn’t know what to expect. I knew people would appreciate fine art combined with a functional heirloom lefse rolling pin, but I didn’t know if anyone would appreciate these pins enough to pay $1,200.
Well, I now know. The King’s Rolling Pin has sold!
Rolling out new lefse products is exciting. It’s fun to create new products that improve lefse making and strengthen the lefse tradition in the process. These products draw out people in the marketplace who are searching for distinctive and useful lefse products. It’s satisfying to match the right product with the right customer. It was especially satisfying to match a customer with The King’s Rolling Pin. The customer was thrilled to find the perfect wedding present for a friend’s daughter.
The Queen’s Rolling Pin is all that remains of the three masterpieces Dan Larson made to match the contest-winning rolling pin that’s on the cover of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Dan has said that’s it; he won’t make another. If you think it to be the perfect gift—even to yourself—please purchase. But I admit that it would not be a bad thing if The Queen’s Rolling Pin is not sold. Heck, I just might buy it to use and pass on in honor of Keep On Rolling!
This is lefse for those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, as the old Nat Cole song says. Yep, it’s too darn hot (Cole Porter) to make a big batch of lefse, right? But where there’s a will there’s a way, so OK, we’re going to use one potato to make four rounds of lefse in 40 minutes.
1 potato baker size (russet is standard but you can use any kind of potato) 2-3 tablespoons butter 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon powdered sugar 1/8 cup cream ½ cup flour, extra for rolling pin and rolling surface
Makes about four lefse.
Cube and pressure cook the unpeeled potato for about 5 minutes. Microwaving a whole unpeeled potato poked with holes for 4 minutes and then 4 more minutes after turning is an option, but sometimes the potato dries out too much.
Peel skins from cubes, mash, and rice twice to remove small lumps that could tear the rounds when rolling. Result is about 1 cup of riced potatoes, depending on the actual size of the baker potato you choose.
Melt butter in saucepan and mix in salt and powdered sugar until dissolved, or nearly dissolved.
Stir butter-salt-sugar mixture and cream into the riced potatoes, and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Cover with towel or paper cloth and let stand while you set up rolling station and lefse grill.
Knead in flour and let dough stand at least five minutes to allow the gluten in the flour to do its thing of holding the dough together when rolled thin.
Roll 3-4 four rounds of lefse.
Enjoy with iced tea.
Notes: When I first tried this One-Potato Lefse, I stuck to my trusted recipe based on 3 cups of riced potatoes. But I found the lefse was dry and lacked flavor, so I slightly increased the amount of butter, sugar, salt, and cream. That made for more flavor but also a wet dough that some might call sticky.
Many lefse makers recoil at the idea of rolling sticky dough, especially when it has not had a chance to cool, which is the case here with lefse in 40 minutes. I am OK with this because I go light on the rolling pin and turn the rounds several times, which prevents sticking.
So be flexible and adventuresome. Trust your lefse-making skills this summer and give One-Potato Lefse a try.