Gary’s note: Last week, I was invited to what can only be described as a “lefsepalooza.” Typically, I’m invited to such events as a speaker or an author signing books, but to this one in Waconia, Minnesota, I went as a “civilian” lefse roller. All I had to do was make a double batch of dough, show up with some lefse-making equipment, and roll and roll and keep on rolling.
It was the funnest lefse event I’ve ever taken part in. I
pause when I write this because lefse fests are all fun. But this one was
special because it was all men, 30-some guys mostly 60-something in age. It was
in a workshop/barn, and, predictably, there was the Vikings game on TV, plenty
of beer, and a couple of aquavit breaks. These skol breaks included announcements,
“humor,” and a goofy ceremony that included eye contact (tough for
Scandinavians) with all other skollers before swallowing a mouthful of aquavit.
The latrine was outside by the tractor (at least it was for me).
We had fun, but it was clear we were there, first and
foremost, to make lefse and Swedish sausage for a good cause, which organizer
Ross Hanson explains below. One table of workers mixed flour with dough and
made ready-to-roll lefse pucks that were delivered to eight rolling stations
next to the table of eight grills. You would call it a brawny, elbows-flying,
sweat-beads-on-the-brow style of rolling that produced big, round, and
see-through-thin lefse (usually) — and lots of it!
Well done, men! Merry Christmas, and see you next year!
Ross Hanson writes:
The making and selling of lefse and Swedish sausage was
introduced in the early to mid-eighties as part of the Faith Lutheran Church
Lucia festival in Waconia, Minnesota. (Let’s pick 1985 and see if anyone
disputes the date.) This was a Christmas event held at Faith on a Saturday
morning in December. The event was billed as a gift to the community and
offered a Julebord of Scandinavian treats and coffee. Lefse was made at
church during the event. The charter rollers were Faith members Scott
Ellingson, Don Sommers, and John Jacobson. Their output was probably
around three to four dozen sheets.
The sausage was also made by members but in the home of Keith
Sjodin a day or two prior to the event. The charter sausage stuffers were
Keith Sjodin, Gary Burau, Dave DeGrote, and Russ Heagle. The sausage
recipe is an old family recipe from Mary Sjodin’s mom. Early records show
their output was around 50 pounds.
The Lucia festival did not survive the test of time, but the demand for lefse and sausage prevailed. Today around 30 Lefse and Sausage guys convene on an evening in early December at my “barn” and produce around 700 sheets of lefse and 150 pounds of sausage.
The fellas cover all the expenses, and 100% of the sales goes to the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund at Faith Lutheran. The fund is an important ministry that enables our pastors to address the many times they come across someone who has hit a “speed bump” and needs just a little help to get back on track.
The Lefse and Sausage event offers an evening of camaraderie as well as good-natured teasing about the quality of the products. Toward the end of the evening, a little taste of heaven occurs when a chunk of the fried Swedish sausage is wrapped in a warm piece of lefse and eaten with a communal “Skol!” of aquavit. Aquavit is a Scandinavian beverage which literally translates to “water of life” — although many would argue that it actually means lighter fluid.
I was desperately trying to find somewhere to purchase lefse for Thanksgiving. I’m a Scandinavian who lives in Windsor, California, and I haven’t made lefse since I was in my teens. Back then, I did the flipping part, and my mother, Ruth (Kvaal) Cornell, prepared the dough and rolled. My mother is gone now. For the last few years I had a wonderful woman here in the wine country of California named Lorraine Larson who ran a lefse business out of her home. We bought dozens of lefse from her over the years. Lorraine is gone also. So what to do?
I came across The Lefse King online and had hopes of having some lefse shipped from my birthplace of Minneapolis. But, alas, Gary Legwold makes lefse for local pickup only. This forced me to do the unimaginable: attempt to make my own lefse — by myself!
I pulled out a cookbook from the good women of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, and gave it my best.
It was a lot of work, but I’m delighted to say that for my first try, the 20 rounds turned out pretty darn good! At least my family enjoyed them. I thought my lefse seemed heavy, but my daughter Britt Bowden put her hand underneath and said, “No way! I can see my hand through it!” So I guess I rolled it thin enough. And my son in law Mike Bowden loved making Norwegian burritos with the leftover turkey and stuffing.
That’s the good news. But now the family is looking forward to another batch for Christmas! My other daughter Kirsta and son Jens don’t live close. They’re in southern California. They were drooling over my photos. Cruel in their minds that they couldn’t have some. So I’ll be taking my lefse-making equipment on the road so they can have some around the first of the year.
Gary’s note: Pastor Dan is one of my favorite people for two reasons. First, he oozes faith. Yet as a pastor, he doesn’t shame others who are searching for faith. He has it, practices it, and humbly and with humor leads others to it. Second, he is the Holy Roller who, wearing a “Lefse King” apron, makes mounds of beautiful lefse every year as part of his church’s Lefse Ministry. This ministry inspires his congregation to make lefse, help the community, and even rebuild Hawk Creek Lutheran Church, which burned down in 2016. The following is Pastor Dan’s reflection on lefse and life in the rebuilt Hawk Creek, which opened last spring.
Some people enjoy lefse for its flavor. You might say it is the ultimate comfort food: soft, easy to digest, with no aftertaste (unless prepared as a Norwegian taco with lutefisk), usually sweetened with white or brown sugar, and infinitely adaptable to every taste.
Some people enjoy lefse simply for its nostalgic ability to remind us of a bygone era when our Norwegian ancestors braved the dangers and uncertainties of crossing the Atlantic and brought the flavors and traditions of the homeland to the new world. We can envision trunks full of the dried lefse (hard lefse) loaded onto steamer ships and providing food to hungry travelers. In its dried form, it kept well and could easily be reconstituted with a little water. Once pioneers settled on their homesteads, it became a delicacy for holiday meals.
At Hawk Creek and Rock Valle Lutheran Churches near Sacred Heart, Minnesota, many of our members trace their ancestry to Norwegian roots. And the delights lefse delivers to our palates, we can’t argue with that! But as I state in my Lefse Catechism: “There’s more to lefse than meets the stomach. Hidden within these orbs of tantalizing and tempting tastes is a message greater than any other — a message of God’s great love toward humanity, a message of salvation, a message of God’s answers for a broken humanity.”
Church Burning and Rebuilding
It’s that message that has empowered us the two difficult years from the time the beloved church building burned down from a lightning strike until recently when we dedicated our new building to God. It is true that when tragedy strikes, we always try to find meaning in it. We often hear, “There’s a reason for everything.” And you might say that as God’s people, we are always seeking signs of God’s presence. We found plenty of those signs. We never did claim Ichabod as our name (look it up). God is present powerfully to direct, lead, and lure us into God’s most preferred future. Our church’s Lefse Ministry is one expression of that quest. In lefse, we have found the message of God’s love. In lefse, we have discovered another reason to move on.
The unanimous decision to rebuild the sanctuary was radical in that it defied the notion that rural churches are dying. In recent weeks two churches in our Southwestern Minnesota Synod have closed. Died? No. Their mission is not over. It has changed. The headquarters for their members may have changed, but the Kingdom work goes on. With our new and beautiful building made possible by God, we are better equipped for the ongoing mission God has called us to. Our sorrow has turned to joy. Hope has not left us. Our prayer is that, united and strengthened through our trials, we will be a more faithful and energized force for carrying out God’s mission.
Not About Scarcity
When Gary Legwold — a very worthy competitor for the title “Lefse King” — wrote Keep on Rolling! it was a great affirmation, a tribute to the difference a small country church can make. How can we say thanks for the recognition he has brought to the unique mission God has given us? The title Gary gave to his chapter on our church’s Lefse Ministry is called “The Holy Roller” (me), but it should have been plural since this humble servant is but a small part. As God is creating great waves for us to surf, I am simply hanging on for the ride.
Let me repeat: We all look for signs of God’s presence in our lives. Remember Jesus’ stories about pearls, seed, farming, baking, etc? For us in the Lefse Ministry, the signs of God’s presence are not like flavorings on a lefse — be they sugar, cinnamon, boysenberry jam, etc. The signs are the substance, the lefse itself. God is not a flavoring we add to life once a week to make it easier or tastier. It is the foundation to which we add the many flavorings that life gives.
The story of Hawk Creek and its fire and rebuilding is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace, given in “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” It is a sign that God is not about scarcity but about abundance of blessing. Take it from us. We’ve lived through it. And by God’s grace, we pray that we can be faithful witnesses into God’s future. And lefse’s lessons will be a part of that journey.
“In lefse, we have discovered another reason to move on.”
As a child, I visited Grandma Liz in Valley City, North Dakota, and then later at a hobby farm in Michigan, North Dakota. There was always lefse and kumps, also known as klub or potet klub.
I moved out East for a government job, and I missed the joyous events and the sad ones, especially when Dad passed in 1995 and then Grandma Liz a few years later. At the time, I realized how much I missed visiting her with my Dad on the farm.
As time went on, to help remember those visits and to pay tribute to her, I set out to learn to make lefse and kumps.
7 Up Lefse
When researching lefse making, I came across a recipe for 7 Up lefse. I thought, “No way! That’s not how Grandma used to make it.” So I filed away the recipe and learned to make lefse the way Grandma made it.
I’ve since made traditional lefse, but I’ve also made 7 Up lefse a couple of times. I must say, it‘s not bad at all!
The last time I made 7 Up lefse, it was after returning from the 2018 Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. I wanted to try the 7 Up lefse recipe again and try it out using my new heirloom lefse rolling pin (pictured below) I purchased from Gary Legwold in the Author’s Corner of Helsinki Hall.
Here is the recipe I use for 7 Up lefse:
5 cups instant potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
10 oz. cold 7 Up
1 cup cold evaporated milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 ¼ cups cold water
2 cups flour
Mix dry ingredients except for flour.
Add liquids and stir.
Add flour and stir with spoon until dough is crumbly.
Knead with your hands.
Make into balls the size of golf balls.
Roll thin and grill at 450 degrees F.
Makes 32 lefse.
I cooled the dough for a half hour or so and then sped up cooling by putting the dough in the freezer and then back to the fridge.
Anyway, give 7 Up lefse a try, for fun and just to say you’ve had it. You, like me, may find that it’s … not bad at all!
Gary’s note: I first met Betty at this year’s National Lefse Cook-off, which is part of Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota. Betty was a contestant who, while rolling round after round, said in a matter-of-fact way that folks in Arlington, Minnesota, “didn’t know what lefse was until I came to town.” Pretty impressive statement, so I asked Betty to write an explanation. Here it is.
I was raised in a Scandinavian home, a child of a mixed marriage. My father was of Norwegian heritage, and my mother’s roots were in Sweden. Lefse was always part of our Christmas dinners.
I helped make lefse a bit at home, but the recipe was so loose that one never knew how it would turn out. Leftover mashed potatoes and some other ingredients were combined, and then flour was added until it was “right.” Once I found a recipe with actual amounts of potatoes, butter, whipping cream, salt, sugar, and exactly the amount of flour necessary to make it “right,” it was much easier.
The first lefse I made was with leftover mashed potatoes from the restaurant where my husband worked in college. He brought the mashed potatoes home and we made use of them. He rolled the lefse, and I fried and flipped.
When we moved to Arlington, Minnesota, a little German community of 2,000, no one had heard of lefse. My Mother went to the local hardware store to buy a lefse griddle for Christmas. The storeowner’s reaction to her request: “What’s lefse?” The owner looked up the product and found the griddle could be ordered.
47-Year-Old Grill Still Works
So 47 years ago, I got my first griddle in Arlington. It’s had new electrical elements and cords, but I still use it. So I can say, Arlington had never heard of lefse until I moved to town—but now they know.
Lefse making gradually caught on in Arlington. One by one, the ladies of our church learned to make it. First, they learned to flip the rounds, and then make lefse dough from one special recipe. Finally, they learned to roll the rounds thin.
Now lefse making is an annual event. Each fall, we gather on a chosen day and make about 300 lefse, which we freeze three in a package until the Fall Bazaar. People have learned to enjoy it, and we never have trouble selling all the lefse.
Passing on the Tradition
I taught my three children how to make lefse. As my six grandchildren came along, they all learned there would be lefse with butter at every holiday meal. And to teach them how to make lefse, I would travel to each of their homes and bring all the equipment and lefse dough ready to roll. They put on aprons and they, too, started with easy tasks and advanced to rolling the rounds. I’m proud that my children and grandchildren have picked up the tradition of lefse making.
Last January, I was asked to demonstrate lefse making at the Sibley County Historical Society Open House. It was a pleasant afternoon and there were samples for all to taste. A few people made several stops to taste lefse again and again. My picture was in the local paper.
And last August, I entered the National Lefse Cook-off at the Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota. Although I didn’t win, it was a fun day and I found that there are many different methods to get a good piece of lefse. Maybe I’ll enter again next year.
I write my 2018 Norsk Hostfest report from Paris, France, where I am vacationing. Writer friend Tim Brady asked if I was hanging out on the Lefse Bank. His wit is unparalleled, but so far I have not found lefse. However, I can hold on until the end of the week when I head to Norway.
Finding lefse was not a problem last week when I sold books and lefse-lutefisk stuff at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. Gotta say that of all the attractions — the scads of excellent comedy and musical acts (mostly free) as well as the endless shopping — the most attractive thing to see was the sea of Scandinavians who were actually smiling! I swear — and some were laughing! They’d come to my table looking grumpy, but then they’d brighten when they saw my lefse and lutefisk books. That made me feel good.
Lefse Masters Competition
This smiling stuff got out of hand during the Lefse Masters Celebrity Competition, featuring Daniel O’Donnell, Williams & Ree, and The Texas Tenors. I was to serve as a judge. The competition started at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday on the stage of Stockholm Hall. I was a bit late getting there, and as I walked into Stockholm Hall, the room was charged and laughter was directed at the stage, which I could not see. I was confused why so many people were spilling from the stage area into the vendor aisles and up the stairs to what is the Lefse Mezzanine, where the Lefse Masters is held throughout the week for the non-celebs. But as I wove my way through the crowd, it became clear folks were there to watch the celebs roll and grill lefse. I was to sit at the judges’ table front and center and observe the skills and techniques of the contestants.
Don’t Let That Smoke Bother You
The only problem was it was difficult to discern dexterity with the rolling pin or turning stick with all the smoke rising from the grills. Daniel O’Donnell, poor lad, was the chief culprit. His grill was smoking like a chimney, and lefse was burning so badly that he finally just chucked a charred lefse offstage. But he atoned for himself by rushing to the microphone and singing a lovely “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” — subbing new lyrics that included “my lefse is a burnin’.”
Round? What Is Round, Exactly?
It seemed that the lefse’s shape was of secondary concern to the contestants. The irrepressible Terry Ree had to point out that the lefse rolled by The Texas Tenors was looking like the shape of the state Texas and — whoops — “they just lost the panhandle, folks.” His partner, Bruce Williams, was largely silent but slipped into some sexual rolling when Ree demanded that he roll “faster” and “not so hard.” Which caused a confused Daniel O’Donnell to ask, “What kind of show are we doing here?”
The judging was difficult between Daniel O’Donnell and The Texas Tenors, with TTT coming out on top with a pretty nice lefse. Williams & Ree? They submitted a lefse that looked like it had been used to clean a cannon.
All good fun, good enough to make the Scandies smile.
Yes, Lutefisk Lip Balm!
My last day at the Hostfest I was relieved to discover the lutefisk lip balm. Cost was $2 on sale at a store outside the Great Hall, where all the big-name acts appear. I was disappointed that the lutefisk lip balm did not smell or taste like lutefisk. I mean, I like lutefisk and would have considerd it a bold move had the makers of this balm gone for the real deal rather than a vanilla bean flavor. The label said of this lip balm: “It will put the fear of cod in you.” Vanilla bean does instill any fear. We can do better than this!
Hand-Painted Lefse Rolling Pins
The lefse makers who were judged to have made lefse so good that they placed first, second, or third in Hostfest’s Lefse Masters lefse-making competition earned a cash prize of $200, $100, and $50 plus lefse rolling pins that are adorned by a rose medallion painter. Very cool awards that will undoubtedly be passed down for generations to come.
Here’s to Ron Garcia!
Ron Garcia jokes that during the Norsk Hostfest he is “Norwegian for a week.” Works for me. He is the hall crier, the man who without aid of a microphone or megaphone bellows to those in Helsinki Hall, where the Author’s Corner is, that the hall will open or close in 10 minutes or that the hall is now open or closed for business. Then he sets the tone as the day begins with, “Have a great day, everyone!”
Ron is a Hostfest original and one of the most endearing men you’ll meet in Minot. Frankly, he is one of the reasons I return year after year. See you in 2019, Ron!
Blaine Pederson emailed from Starbuck, Minnesota, last week that Larry Kittelson had died unexpectedly at age 80. When I researched The Last Word on Lefsein 1992, I interviewed six of The Boys of Starbuck, as I called this group nine men who came up with a goofy idea for Starbuck’s first Heritage Days in 1983: Make a lefse so big that it would go into the Norwegian Schibsted Book of Records.
Larry Kittelson could not make it to Gordy’s Cafe for the group interview back in 1992, and I regretted not meeting this baker who had owned the Pastry Shoppe. Larry made the dough for the World’s Largest Lefse — and then reformulated it at the 11th hour when a trial run had failed. Larry was key because, as all lefse makers know, if you don’t have the dough, there ain’t no show.
When I researched Keep On Rolling!in 2017, I was sad to learn that all The Boys had died, all except Larry. So it was a joy to finally meet him and ask him to tell me the story, for old time’s sake, of the making of the nine-foot, eight-inch monster lefse. Here is a portion of the interview, which you can read in entirety in Keep on Rolling!:
Legwold: The dough for this monster lefse was made up of 30 pounds of potatoes, right?
Larry: Right, instant potatoes. Potato Buds. We also used flour (35 pounds), sugar (1 pound), powdered milk (1 pound), and shortening (4 pounds).
Legwold: In the week before the actual event, you had two practice times. Why?
Larry: We didn’t want to look like idiots. We put plywood on a hayrack and covered the plywood with a sheet. The first practice night, we rolled with regular 3-foot-long pins from the bakery. And when we had the lefse all rolled out, we put it on the big roller. When we hauled it over to the grill, it fell apart. We tried it on a second practice night and added puff-paste shortening used to make apple turnovers. It helped hold the dough together. We chilled the dough well, and used more charcoal to get more heat under the grill. So the second practice went better. We didn’t do another trial with the puff-paste shortening in the dough. It was like, “This here will work or else.” I figured it would work on the day of the event, and it worked like a charm.
Legwold: How thin was the world-record lefse?
Larry: About as thin as that napkin there. It wasn’t thick by any means, like the thickness of two normal lefse stacked on top of each other.
Legwold: Did it bubble up on the grill?
Larry: Yep, just like regular lefse.
Legwold: After you accomplished the feat of making the record lefse, why not quit? Why did you try again right away—especially when that second one fell apart?
Larry: I made a batch twice the amount we needed, and I wanted to use up the damn dough. I didn’t want to waste the rest of the batch. That second time didn’t work as good, but luck was on our side with the first one.
Legwold: Other towns like Clarkfield and Madison [both in Minnesota] called for information on how to beat your record, right? What did you say to them?
Larry: An outfit from Washington state also called, and they wanted to try to break our record. I think I even gave them my recipe. I don’t remember. I probably didn’t give them the secret about the puff paste (laughs).
Legwold: Did this event put Starbuck on the map?
Larry: It sure did for a while. It really helped. You know, anything a small town can do nowadays to get itself on the map helps. We had the World’s Largest Lefse and Heritage Days in 1983, and Lefse Dagen started in 1987. That record lefse brings a lot of people to town. It gives us some bragging rights.
Larry, you were a fine man, a civic leader, and a good baker who brought joy to many who enjoy a tasty treat with coffee. You were also a lefse maker who made lefse history — big time — and someone who I will always remember fondly.
You can read it in the breathless style of writing and focus that Mary Lou Peterson uses when she describes being the first person to put together the 504-piece Let’s Make Lefse! Jigsaw Puzzle. “I saw the lefse puzzle and knew immediately that I needed to have it,” wrote Mary Lou from Minnetonka, Minnesota.
I can only imagine what she was thinking during this dramatic moment in history. Observing her sketchy writing style, I thought that perhaps she sensed she was on the precipice of making lefse history and was rushing to be the first finisher of the lefse puzzle and therefore the first puzzler to enter the Lefse Hall of Fame. And yet she kept her wits about her and jotted notes, knowing that all in Lefse Land would be begging for details once the word spread.
History will mark Mary Lou as a gamer. She had the right stuff, that obsessive drive that causes all jigsaw joy seekers to stay up late and get up early so that they can find the proper home for every last piece of the puzzle. As a nurse who has years of experience dealing with life-and-death situations, she knew she had to be steady and levelheaded under immense pressure to finish this puzzle before anyone else in Lefse Land. She knew she had to keep her eye on the prize and not be distracted by the ballyhoo and big bucks that would come with entering the Lefse Hall of Fame. Steady, Mary Lou, steady …
For the record, Mary Lou and family finished the Let’s Make Lefse Jigsaw Puzzle on August 20, 2018, and posted a photo of her prize puzzle on Facebook with a note that modestly said, “Done….”
Well done, Mary Lou! Here’s to you and your spot in history!
And here are Mary Lou’s notes that will be recorded in the Lefse Hall of Fame:
I saw the lefse puzzle and knew immediately that I needed to have it. The puzzle boxes, two extra for Christmas, arrived….
I cleared the dining table, emptied the bag that held the pieces … stood back … which part to do first??
I had a slow start. I had not done a puzzle for years. It took a plan….
I separated the colors, the stripes, and the edge pieces. Then I started … a bit slow at first….
I recruited my daughter, Kara Peterson. My husband, Craig Peterson, came by and was help….
It took several days … a few minutes at a time as I passed the table where the puzzle was being assembled. The big lefse done … it got easier and edges were completed … the arms and hands … the lefse turner’s….
Kara commented how it was tricky that the hands were in three places and that there was all this blue in the puzzle. Craig worked on the stove in the puzzle’s background. He has a good eye and had that section completed pretty quickly.
Finally, it all came together — and finished!
Then I grabbed the phone for a picture and posted on FB.
The Minnesota State Fair set the total attendance record this year with 2,046,533 visitors, about 50,000 more than what was the record last year. There were several contributing factors (good weather, good economy), but the biggest reason for the new record was the introduction of the lefse beer called Uffda Ale. Fer sure!
Uffda Ale is a new brew made by Beaver Island Brewing, and it was sold at Giggles’ Campfire Grill at the southeast corner of Lee Avenue and Cooper Street, at the North Woods. Frankly, I had my doubts about this beer, that it would turn out to be a gimmicky embarrassment to all of us who honor all things lefse. But it wasn’t! It was actually a good, smooth beer that went down easily and benefitted from the zing of a handful of added lingonberries. And the Lefse Chip (a strip of fried, salted lefse) was a tasty touch.
As I stood in line for my Uffda Ale at Giggles’, I observed that about half of those walking away with a beer in their hand were carrying the Uffda Ale with the Lefse Chip on top. Hmmm … .
The day I attended, there were 270,426 visitors, which set the one-day attendance record. Is it too much of a stretch to say that 135,213 (half) of them were there because they had heard of this new lefse beer and just had to try it? Fer sure!
That’s a Lotta Lefse
After I enjoyed my first Uffda Ale made with lefse, I just had to visit my friends at the Jacobs Lefse Bakeri & Gifts booth. They were selling all things lefse and some almond cookies that are so good they make you want to find a quiet corner and eat all six in the bag. They were also selling my two lefse books; Jacobs is featured in both.
Perhaps inspired by the Uffda Ale, I held up my latest book, Keep on Rolling!, and said in a very loud voice, “Boy, this sure looks like a great book!” Bonnie turned from making a lefse rollup. She didn’t recognize me and turned back to her work, probably thinking I was a kook. Joanne immediately recognized me and smiled as she approached. Bonnie then came over, and we all talked and took a photo.
Before leaving, I asked Bonnie how many lefse rounds Jacobs sells a day at the Fair.
“Oh, I don’t know, about 2,000,” she said.
Amazing! I’m glad that Jacobs has been at the Fair for the last 18 years keeping the lefse tradition alive.