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My New Lefse Novel!

This sketch by Heather Bassler Zemien depicts the night when a record snowfall led to a memorable lefse-making marathon involving 12-year-old Amaya, Papa, Mrs. Taylor, and three Belgian horses. In Final Rounds, Amaya writes about this night as she grieves the passing of her Papa.

I love all things lefse and I love writing, so I’m excited to announce that I have again combined my loves into a new book. This book is a novel, my first, and I’m thrilled.

The novel is titled Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and, Yes, Lefse. It is a short novel for middle school children and older — and I like to think it’s a good adult read, as well. Final Rounds is about grief, a joyous book on grief with 630 rounds of lefse rolled in. The novel begins:

My Papa passed away today, I don’t know what to do.
“My Poober-Pahbers, WRITE!” he’d say. “Writing finds the you that’s true.”

The narrator is 12-year-old Amaya, who doesn’t write or read well because of dyslexia. But she forces herself to write, as Papa, her grandfather, would have wanted. To prepare for her writing task, Amaya makes lefse the way Papa had taught her. Then she faces the blank page and lets her hand move freely — and surprises herself by writing in rhymes! Was it the lefse that led to the rhyming?

She recounts a day-night-day three years prior when she and Papa were housebound by a record snowfall. In this storm, they made 630 rounds of lefse that, as a Christmas tradition, they would give to every household in their small town in Minnesota.

During this lefse lollapalooza, Papa explained his eight rather wacky rules of life to guide Amaya. For example, Rule No. 4 is “Remember KABLOOEY.” What the heck is KABLOOEY?

KABLOOEY’S the thing that cancels your phooey.
If you’re kinda blue, just look for KABLOOEY.
KABLOOEY is humor, hilarity, wit.
When packing for life, load oodles of it.

After Papa defined Rule No. 6, “Know a KNOT, “ his telephone rang. It was Mrs. Taylor, an elderly neighbor near his farm. Her furnace had gone out. Papa and Amaya saddled up their Belgian horses and rode through the storm to pick up Mrs. Taylor and return to Papa’s for the night. The next day, the three of them finished rolling what was left of the 28 bowls of lefse dough. As they rolled, Mrs. Taylor had Amaya and Papa spellbound by the story of purchasing her black hat three decades earlier, which at the time was a defining moment in the life of this young, black teacher from Mississippi.

The story ends on the day of Papa’s funeral. Amaya had wanted to do something special for Papa on this day, and after writing about Papa, his eight Rules, and this magical lefse-making moment with the horses and the snow and Mrs. Taylor, Amaya figures out what that something special is — and it has to do with lefse.

Final Rounds is a tender book on a tough topic, but it the only book on grief that will teach you a tip or two about making lefse … in verse.

I will keep you posted on the progress of Final Rounds as it is goes though edits and proofs. Expect publication to be this summer.

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Freeze Time, in More Ways Than One

ISO a great way to freeze lefse.

Whenever winters get rough — and this is a rough one in Minnesota — I figure lefse lovers have an advantage in surviving freezing temps and record snowfalls: We have lefse. As my friend and editor Kathleen Weflen says, lefse warms us twice. Once when we make it and again when we eat it.

As much as I’ve made lefse and written about it, there is one area of lefse making that I need help with: freezing it. Frankly, there hasn’t been much need in our house. The lefse’s gone pretty quickly after we make it. Still, I want to freeze it so that I can offer it to guests who pop in or to be able to take it to a dinner or party without making a fuss and a mess.

This jumbo freezer bag from Target is large enough so folding the rounds is not necessary before putting them in the freezer.

So I am experimenting with freezing lefse. The issue I have with freezing lefse is it’s not quite as tender when it thaws and the rounds can crack. I have found freezer bags from Target that are large enough so folding is not necessary. This eliminates cracking along the fold lines. I also make sure the lefse has plenty of time to cool and dry — but not dry out — before putting parchment paper between the rounds in the freezer bag so the lefse doesn’t stick together.

In my book Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round, Jean Olson of Deerwood, Minnesota, has this tip on freezing lefse: “Before freezing, wrap six cooled-and-folded rounds in Saran Wrap. Wait 24 hours, and then put the lefse in a Ziploc bag for freezing.”

Is this what you do to freeze lefse? How satisfied are you with your lefse-freezing method?

PLEASE send your tips on freezing lefse! Just email me at glegwold@lutefisk.com. Thanks!

Oh, spring comes in less than three weeks!

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The Amen Lefse Wrap Recipe

Common ingredients — chocolate, butter, bananas, pecans — that yield uncommon results. You may drool with The Amen Lefse Wrap, so grab a napkin.

Of course, if your day is dominated by don’ts, don’t read on. That is, if you don’t like chocolate and butter and bananas and pecans — and if you don’t want to adulterate your lefse with anything but the standard butter and sugar — then stop right here. No need to check out this recipe for making a Super Bowl party lefse wrap that will be snapped up before the New England Patriots or Los Angeles Rams score a point.

On the other hand, if you do like fudge — homemade fudge — and if you do like bringing a bit of drooling adventure to Lefseland, then by all means do make The Amen Lefse Wrap and bring it to Sunday’s party. Or … make it and eat all by yourself.

The Amen Lefse Wrap

Chocolate-banana lefse wrap

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

4 tablespoons butter

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup cocoa powder

½ cup cream

6 ripe bananas

½ cup chopped pecans

To prepare fudge sauce: Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Stir in sugar, cocoa, and cream. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until smooth. Set aside.

Slice bananas and spread in a line on the diameter of 4 lefse rounds. Drizzle generously with fudge sauce, and sprinkle with pecans. Roll burrito-style.

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Lefse Wraps for Super Bowl Parties!

Take something new and unique to this year’s Super Bowl parties: shrimp lefse rollups.

The NFC and AFC Championship games this weekend and the Super Bowl game February 3rd mean only one thing: party time! All good. So here’s what you can bring for food other than the same old same old bowl of chili or platter of chips and dip:

Lefse wraps!

I can guarantee your lefse wraps will be the talk of the table because:

  • Everyone loves a tasty wrap. It’s fun finger food, and you don’t fill up on a lot of carbs — just the savory combinations inside.
  • A lefse wrap is the tastiest of all wraps. Most other types of wraps have wrappings with no flavor — zilch. But velvety, toasty, potato-y lefse adds to the texture and the ensemble of flavors. Plus, lefse is pretty with its brown spots and freckles against a golden background. Just make sure you roll your lefse thicker than normal so the rounds are strong enough to hold the goodies within.

Think about taking to football parties — or any party, for that matter — one of the 13 lefse wraps in Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Here is an example of one of those can’t-miss wraps:

Shrimp in a Blanket

Shrimp lefse rollup

8 ounces softened cream cheese

4 ounces shrimp-cocktail sauce

12 ounces peeled, deveined, cooked shrimp (recommend 21 to 25 count shrimp, each cut in two or three pieces, for 4 rounds of lefse)

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Spread softened cream cheese on 4 rounds of lefse. Spread cocktail sauce over cream cheese. Sprinkle shrimp pieces all over cocktail sauce. Sprinkle parsley over all. Roll up lefse, and cut into pinwheels.

Enjoy, and enjoy the games!

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Free Lefse Calendar for Funny Lefse-Lutefisk Joke

This illustration by Peter Krause sets up a joke for lutefisk eaters who like football.

I’ve been so caught up in the holiday lefse-and-lutefisk storm that I missed an anniversary. The previous The Lefse & Lutefisk News was the one-year anniversary issue! Woohoo!!

To celebrate, I’m giving away copies of The 2019 Let’s Make Lefse! Calendar.

Well, not quite giving them away … but I’m giving them to the first 15 readers who send me a lefse or lutefisk joke. If the joke is good — and just about any lefse or lutefisk joke is good (except some lutefisk jokes) — and you are among the first 15 who send in a good joke, you’ll get a free lefse calendar full of photos, illustrations, lefse quotes, lefse-making tips, and humor.

So email your jokes to glegwold@lutefisk.com and I will let you know if you are one of the 15 winners.

To prime the pump, here is a football-lutefisk joke (kinda edgy) from The Last Toast to Lutefisk! 102 Toast, Tidbits, and Trifles for Your Next Lutefisk Dinner.

Two Green Bay Packers fans we’re seated next to a Minnesota Vikings fan at a lutefisk dinner. The Vikings fan must have had a problem because he kept excusing himself to go to the bathroom.

The Packers fans, being the prankish sort, spit on the Vikings fans lutefisk when he went to the bathroom. He returned, took a bite of lutefisk, and did not seem to notice the spit.

The next time the Vikings fan left the table, the Packers fans asked him to please return with two beers. Again, the Packers fans spit on the Vikings fan’s lutefisk.

The Vikings fan returned with two foamy glasses of beer, which the Packers fans drank with great satisfaction. The Vikings fan sat down and took another bite of lutefisk. With a look of disgust, he said, ”How long must this go on? Why can’t we rivals live in peace? What causes Packers and Vikings fans to stoop to such lowliness that we spit on each other’s lutefisk and pee in each other’s beers?”

In summary, be among the first 15 to send your lefse or lutefisk jokes to glegwold@lutefisk.com.

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Ricing Made Easy!

Ricing twice is nice for making extra smooth lefse dough, but it can be a lot of work with a big batch of potatoes. Nolan Spencer says you can reduce the work using a grinder.

Gary’s note: I first mash my boiled potatoes and then rice them twice to make sure I eliminate as many little lumps in the dough as possible. Normally, I use a Vintage Potato Ricer because the old ricers work better than the new. But hand ricing is a lotta work when making a lotta dough, so I was curious about the ricing method described below by Nolan Spencer, my lefse pal in Deerwood, Minnesota. I tried it and like this method. Check it out.

Nolan writes:

A few years ago, I saw a gal grinding her boiled spuds on a little KitchenAid grinder. I decided to try this on my big No. 22 grinder when my neighbor Dick Raymond and myself demonstrated lefse making and taught lefse rolling and baking to his sons, daughters-in-laws, and grandkids. We boiled and ground 15 pounds of russets through the 1/8-inch plate. The result was smooth dough with no lumps. 

Two years ago, I bought this little No. 8 grinder (shown above) at Fleet Farm. It’s noisy and I wouldn’t want to make sausage with it, but it grinds taters smoothly and quickly. My friend Millie Priyatel and I put five pounds through it in eight minutes one evening recently. No aching, arthritic wrists, and cleanup was just a quick, hot-water rinse.  

I grind into the blue plastic container, as shown. I flatten out the spuds and pour my cream-butter-salt-sugar mixture over the potatoes. Then I “stomp” the mixture in with a potato masher until a have a nice, smooth, even dough. 

Nolan uses a potato masher to mix lefse dough with flour right before rolling.

I cover with a dishtowel, and into the fridge it goes for the night. The next morning right before rolling and grilling, I add King Arthur Flour (Gary’s recommendation which I’ve passed on to many) to the cooled spud mixture, make dough balls, and start rolling.

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Lefse Poems for the Season

Rolling lefse and writing poems — a sweet combination.
Illustration: Jill Kittock

The holidays bring out the lefse lover in us, and lovers of all kinds adore poetry. So to spice up your holiday spirit, here is a haiku followed by three lefse poems.

Haiku for the Holidays

By Kathleen Weflen.

Kathleen lives in St. Paul and has edited all my books.

Norwegian lefse

Dainty potato doilies

Grandma’s recipe

Making Lefse

By Doug Bengtson

Doug is a lefse maker in Wood Lake, Minnesota.

Get out potatoes, cream, and flour

We’ll make lefse by the hour

A little mixing here and there

We roll it out real thin, I swear

Find the griddle and rolling pin

Plug in the griddle, mix the recipe in

Get the table set up and ready

Make sure everything is steady

Roll out the lefse with a shout

Get the butter and brown sugar out

On the griddle make a quick flip

Take it off and have coffee to sip

Iss Called Lefse for a Purpose

By Gary Legwold

From The Last Word on Lefse

Oh Lord it iss hard to make lefse

Dat is perfect in every vay.

To roll dem so round and so tin

Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha — dat vill be the 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 rightse” instead.

Lefse Is a Classy Lady

By Gary Legwold

From Keep On Rolling!

Lefse is a classy lady,

This we know to be true.

She was there through our uneven youth,

Smoothing, soothing, oh so sweet.

She was there when we were off to . . .

Tears and prayers and miss-yous in the pillow package of toasted flour.

She was there when we returned, cavalier and stride full.

She nodded humility at the screen door. “A little lunch, then?”

She was there when we Gave Thanks each year

Sensual, soft, stunning, dressing up the day . . . turning heads at the Christmas table.

She is there when the old ones go, closing the crackly, weighted black album,

And when the young ones come, blessing their big-eyed, breathless open book.

She is there when we slow and slump and stumble

She knows . . . She knows . . . She shrugs and smiles and says, “Keep on rolling.”

Lefse is a classy lady,

This we know to be true.

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A Christmas Lefsepalooza!

Ross Hanson lifts his nicely rolled-out lefse in the all-men lefse and sausage-making fundraiser.

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.

Flour is mixed into lefse dough at the table on the right, and grilled rounds are cooled at the table on the left.

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.  

Freshly grilled Swedish sausage inside a fresh lefse wrap with a beer wash … ah, the good life!

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.  

After the communal skol of aquavit, participants put their glass in a numbered hole. The trick is remembering your number, which is easier if you limit your skolling.
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Desperately Seeking Lefse!

Her back against the wall, Beth Hagen had no choice but to make lefse with only dusty equipment not used in decades and vague lefse-making memories from her childhood. Result: not bad!!

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.

Beth’s bounty of good-looking lefse. Bra gjort!

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.

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A Special Thanksgiving Lefse Story

The rebuilt Hawk Creek Lutheran Church in Sacred Heart, Minnesota.

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.

Rev. Daniel Bowman, aka The Holly Roller, rolls lefse non-stop during the Hawk Creek Lutheran Church Lefse Ministry Bazaar in Sacred Heart, Minnesota. He successfully connects faith and lefse.

Lefse Catechism

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.”

 

Hawk Creek Lutheran Church was struck by lightning in 2016, and most of the church burned to the ground.

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.”

The sanctuary of the rebuilt Hawk Creek Lutheran Church in Sacred Heart, Minnesota.