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Lefse and a Pastor’s Lust

Little did I know last Christmas that the innocent little act of selling an heirloom lefse rolling pin and turning stick could lead a Lutheran minister to lust.

Well, it did, and it weighed on my soul when I learned about the situation in an email from Rev. Daniel Bowman, pastor at Hawk Creek Lutheran Church in Sacred Heart, Minnesota.

Pastor Dan and Hawk Creek’s Lefse Ministry were featured in an entire chapter of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. He is a wellspring of faith and a man of the people as he rolls thousands of lefse each fall when the church gives away and sells lefse to the community.

His family reached out to me last Christmas, hoping I had a beautiful lefse pin that could serve as a gift to Pastor Dan. This pin would replace the pin he’d used for years, which was showing wear.

Pastor Dan Bowman

I worked out details with Pastor Dan’s daughters Hannah Shibeshi and Ruth Haugstad, who decided to go with the Magnificent Maple Walnut Wave masterpiece made by woodturner Jim Jacobs (see photo below). This is a bigger pin with larger handles for Pastor Dan, who stands 6′ 4″ tall.

The family wanted the gift personalized with the words “Pastor Daniel Bowman Psalm 34:8” written on the pin. That passage in the Bible, by the way, is:

O taste and see that the Lord is good: Blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

Psalm 34:8

Jim is not an inscriber, but he did a pretty darn good job fulfilling the family’s wish (see below).

Jim Jacobs, who turned this rolling pin on a lathe, personalized the pin, which was a Christmas gift from Pastor Dan’s family last year.

Pastor Dan’s Bind

Christmas came and went, and on January 3 of this year, I received an email from Pastor Dan, who thanked me for working with his family to provide his special Christmas gifts. He continued:

When I first saw the picture on your website, I was absolutely and viscerally stunned. Being a rather frugal person, I didn’t think myself worthy of such beauty and extravagance. This led to a serious problem with my ongoing violation of the 10th commandment, or 9th commandment, as it may also be considered in the Lutheran tradition. In either case, related to the lust of the eyes. My problem wasn’t at all with my “neighbor’s” wife. But it was with her rolling pin! A variegated design with multiple woods all lined up would be impressive and beautiful, though expected of a skilled wood craftsman. But this dark maple wave design of varying thickness is beyond description. I cannot imagine the specialized techniques or jigs Jim Jacobs must have used to create this “out of the box design” beauty. I must thank him in person some day.

My rolling pin that has crafted approximately 100,000 lefse was gradually seeing wear and tear, especially from rubbing on the outside part of the handle from the knobby stopper on the metal rod. Occasionally I will have to pluck extraneous fibrous wood pieces from lefse. I do not have ball bearings, but have been fortunate to have a metal rod as the axle. I shared my problem (of the need for a new rolling pin as well as my problem with the commandment violation) with my daughter, not thinking that she would even consider getting it [a new rolling pin].

If you think about it, one way to conquer lusting after your neighbor’s house is to buy another like it for yourself. In any case, I no longer have the problem—as it regards lefse rolling pins, at least—since I am now the proud owner of one of the most beautiful rolling pins in the world.

At this point in the email, I was pleased that Pastor Dan was so pleased—and impressed that he was open about his “violation” of the last two of the Ten Commandments. Yes, he is one of us, I thought. But there was more to the story, an issue of self-worth, it seemed! Pastor Dan wrote:

I now have a new problem. How does one go about steeling up the nerve to press a “Mona Lisa” upon a ball of simple and ordinary lefse dough? Applying such a beautiful piece of art to culinary projects seems quite prodigious (aka prodigal – “extravagant”) – something akin to throwing pearls before swine, using the language of faith.

The other issue, a result of my strong sense of loyalty, is this: How will I feel about relegating the older rolling pin to a life of disuse in a drawer? Will it be something like putting one’s mother (or spouse) in the nursing home? How will I deal with my sense of betrayal of one who has been such a friend for so many years?

I will need your ongoing prayers on this matter. I wonder if thinking it through in terms of a death and a resurrection experience would be helpful?

I saw Jim Jacobs the morning I received the email and passed on Pastor Dan’s compliments. Jim read the email and then apologized for putting Pastor Dan in a Ten Commandment bind because of his rolling pin!

Oh, the power of lefse and all things lefse!

In the months since these issues surfaced, I have been praying for Pastor Dan. Let your faith lead you, my friend.

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Purple Potatoes for Healthy Lefse

Almost two years ago, Chuck Hays wrote a blog titled “8 Unconventional Tips for Making Purple Lefse”. He uses Vitelotte Noir potatoes to get the purple color, and he steams them, never boils them. He doesn’t mash or peel or rice the Vitelotte Noir but simply puts the cooked potatoes, skins and all, through a meat grinder using a screen with a 1/8-inch holes. He doesn’t chill the potatoes, and he uses olive oil in his recipe.

Stack your purple lefse between towels for cooling.

I thought about purple lefse recently when I was reading a health-and-diet book (How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D., with Gene Stone). There was a section about sweet potatoes, a “superfood,” according to the author, because they are packed with nutrients and high in antioxidants. So, of course, I have put sweet potato lefse on my long list of lefse things to try.

The author also wrote that potatoes with blue or purple flesh were better than plain potatoes in reducing inflammation and increasing “the antioxidant capacity” in the bloodstream of subjects in a scientific study. “Blue potatoes may have ten times more antioxidant power than regular white ones,” writes Greger. “The most exciting purple potato study to date had people with hypertension eat six to eight microwaved small purple potatoes a day, and they were able to significantly bring down their blood pressure levels within a month.”

Finding blue or purple potatoes for lefse is the problem. I found some last fall in a Minneapolis co-op, but a produce guy said I’d have to wait until next fall when local growers start providing these special potatoes. Until then, I have to go online.

The Vitelotte Noir contains the antioxidant anthocyanin that gives this spud its unique color.
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Lefse and Potato Leek Soup

When I teach lefse classes, I give out my recipe for potato leek soup. Why? Because in making lefse dough, there are always extra amounts of riced potatoes. There are many uses for these extra spuds, but none tastier than using them in potato leek soup.

Jeanne and David Sumnicht took my class and received “extra credit” by:

  • Making lefse on their own within a week or two of when they took my class. I always recommend this because there is less chance you will forget a step or technique in how to make lefse if you do it close to the time you learn. Jeanne and David made lefse the day after their class.
  • Making potato leek soup. They did that promptly as well, and served it and their own lefse for lunch (see photo below).
The perfect 1-2 combo for the tail end of winter: potato leek soup and lefse.

Jeanne and David, congratulations! You go to the head of the class!

Jeanne and David Sumnicht: Lefse friends are friends for life.

Oh, yes. Here is the recipe for potato leek soup. Enjoy!

Potato Leek Soup, made from the extra potatoes when you make lefse dough.

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Lazy Susan Lefse

Alice Holland has fine tuned the lefse-rolling process by adding Lazy Susan hardware to her lefse pastry board.

I learn from every lefse maker I meet. A little tip, a refinement in the recipe or way of making lefse, perhaps a joke or a song. It keeps lefse making fresh for me, and I make a lot of lefse friends.

I met a lot of lefse makers when I spoke at the Sons of Norway Vennekretsen Lodge in Anoka, Minnesota. One of them was Alice Holland, who handed me a paper with two photos on it and her phone number. A few days after my presentation, I called Alice and she explained the photos and how she made her own lefse pastry board with Lazy Susan hardware attached to the bottom. I was intrigued.

“In 1986, I had a back injury,” Alice said, “and it’s difficult for me to twist my back.” In 1990, during a kitchen remodeling project, workers cut a hole in the countertop material to make room for the kitchen sink. The hole was 19 inches across, and Alice the lefse maker immediately seized the cutout piece for use as a lefse pastry board for rolling lefse. And because of her back issue, she fixed to the board Lazy Susan hardware she purchased from The Home Depot.

“With that, I don’t have to twist my back when I roll lefse,” Alice says. “Just rotate the board with a little push of my thumb.”

I decided to give Lazy Susan lefse making a try. I realized how much I bend and twist and dance around my pastry board as I adjust the angle of my rolling pin in order to roll round rounds. I often rotate the board because I move around the perimeter of the board when rolling. Because I’m not grinding on the same spot in the middle of the board, I reduce the amount of flour used—which makes for more tender lefse—and it prevents the dreaded sticking problem.

I used to add rubber feet to the Keep On Rolling Pastry Board that I sell, but I have removed the feet because it’s easier to rotate the board without them. Using a Lazy Susan lefse board would make it even easier to rotate the board.

My pastry board with Lazy Susan hardware attached. Note that I have removed the rubber feet so the board rotates freely.

To make a Lazy Susan lefse pastry board, I purchased at Menards a 12-inch Lazy Susan by Shepherd Hardware Products. A true Lazy Susan would attach the lefse pastry board to a base board. I decided not to attach my rolling board to a base board because it would require drilling through the rolling board. I didn’t want holes and screw heads messing up the surface of my rolling board. I also didn’t want the extra weight and clunkiness that would come with a second board.

So I simply used No. 8 x 1/2-inch flat head wood screws to attach the Lazy Susan to the bottom of my board I have used for years. I had to use flat head screws; round head screws would prevent the Lazy Susan parts from moving freely. My board is 1/2 inch thick but the 1/2-inch screw don’t poke through to the rolling surface because the thickness of the Lazy Susan hardware stop the screws from sinking a full 1/2 inch.

After attaching the hardware to the board, the last detail was cutting a piece of perforated rubber used for shelf matting and placing that on my countertop and under my pastry board. I didn’t want the Lazy Susan Hardware to scratch my granite countertop.

Viola! I can roll lefse and rotate my rolling board with ease so I can keep on rolling for years with less work. Thanks, Alice!

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Reduce Food Waste

What to do with potato peels when making lefse dough?

Here is a tasty tip for when you make lefse dough. It’s from St. Paul lefse maker Sasha Aslanian, who admits she is “kind of a maniac about reducing waste.” She found the tip in Scraps, Peels, and Stems: Recipes and Tips for Rethinking Food Waste at Home by Jill Lightner.

Sasha wrote:

You take the potato peels from your lefse potatoes, put them in a little bowl and drizzle with oil (I used peanut oil). Then put them on a baking sheet and pop in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Then flip them/stir them around and bake a few more minutes.

I asked Sasha if she had a photo. “I don’t have a photo of my chips because sadly, I just scarfed them down before I sent you an email,” she wrote. “I don’t buy junk food so it was satisfying to make my own, and find a use for something I was tossing in the compost.”

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A Very Misty Christmas

Boiling potatoes for lefse makes mist on the kitchen window.

I am making lots of lefse right now. Tis the season, right? And one of my most favorite times in the process is when the potatoes are boiling and I get to sit. Sit and think. Sit and remember.

I remember Grandma Legwold, her quiet smile that she passed on to my dad, Conrad Legwold. I suppose I have it. I never saw her make lefse but tasted plenty of it.

The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories Cover Image
The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories Cover Image

I remember all the old lefse makers who were the stars of my 1992 book, The Last Word on Lefse. The Queen, Ida Sacquitne, who told me about powdered sugar in her lefse recipe. Eunice Stoen, who was the first to tell me she did not cool her dough but rolled it at room temperature, thus saving time. I have come around to doing just that— and love it. John Glesne, who paved the way for me as a man to be a lefse maker in a woman’s lefse world. Merlin Hoiness, the original Mr. Lefse, and Bitten Norvoll, who hated doing dishes and made extra mashed potatoes for dinner so her boys would exchange doing dishes for the fresh lefse Bitten would whip up. And of course, there’s the Boys of Starbuck, a group of old guys who came up with a goofy-then-great idea to create The World’s Largest Lefse that was 9 feet 8 inches in diameter.

"Keep On Rolling!" Cover Image
“Keep On Rolling!” Cover Image

Those are the lefse makers who come to mind just from one lefse book. The lefse maker list could go on and on. I interviewed 52 lefse makers for Keep On Rolling!, my second lefse book published in 2017. I cherish these memories when I listen to classical music and sit and think about them, especially Linda Bengtson, who I dedicated the book to and who passed on this year.

Many of these lefse makers have passed on, and I cry about that. Sure I miss them, but I think of those memories that brought joy, especially those lefse memories. Everybody has a lefse story, and with the writing of my books and All Things Lefse that have spun off from the books, I have heard so many of those stories. And I give thanks for them.

To sit and think and remember gives grief a good name. I feel better as I do this … have a good Christmas cry thinking back over the year and the years.

As I look at the mist that builds on the window from the boiling potatoes, I think of 12-year-old Timothy, a character in my new novel Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. Timothy tells his girlfriend Amaya, the main character in the novel, that he sees ghosts. She’s shocked but believes Timothy, and she asks where he sees them. He says, “wherever water is … like … light…. You know … when water is floating, like fog or mist or—”

I don’t see ghosts, but I believe Timothy, that ghosts or something like them are where water is light, in fog or in mist or in falling snow. When I look at the falling snow behind the mist on my kitchen window as I boil potatoes, I think of the old lefse makers and part of a poem Amaya says at the funeral of her Papa, who taught her to make lefse:

See how far you’ve come to get where you are

See who was there with you, to lift up your star

And know they’re still with you, just right over here.

Turn around and tune in; they don’t disappear.

My potatoes are done, so it is time to make the lefse dough. But I look at the mist on the window and think of the old lefse makers who are “just right over here” … and I smile.

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The Woes of Wet Lefse Dough

What do you do when your lefse dough is wet? Well …

Lefse makers tend to find a recipe, often from a loved one in the family, and follow it precisely. I’m the same, or I had been until yesterday. I was in a hurry and got a little loose with my measurements. Actually, I’m kinda proud that I thumbed my nose at perfectionism. My perfectionism is an oppressor, demanding I do it perfect (make lefse, sing, write a book, you name it) or else.

Well, this batch of lefse dough was not done perfectly. I had added too much butter and cream, so the dough turned out wet.

What to do?

Wet lefse dough can mean your lefse rounds will be tough. With wet dough, you think you have to use more flour as you roll in order to prevent sticking. More flour equals tough lefse, and tough lefse, of course, is not your goal. I call tough lefse potato jerky.

To salvage such a batch, I do not use more flour. Instead, I use more time and less pressure on the rolling pin.

I form a patty and then gently press the rolling pin onto the patty. I do this repeatedly, rotating the pin and slowly rolling the dough into a wider and wider circle. Gently is the key word. Squishing the patty creates sticking.

When I get the round to a diameter about half as large as I want the final round to be, I turn the round and move it to another spot on my pastry board. That’s one reason I sell a large pastry board, so I can move the round while rolling and not keep grinding on the same spot, which hastens sticking.

So when you make a wet batch of lefse dough, don’t pitch it and don’t use more flour. Just take more time, turn and move your round at the midway point, and go ever so gently on the rolling pin.

These are the rounds that were rolled from the wet batch of lefse dough.
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Bad Weather, Good Lefse

Oh the weather outside is frightful …

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the LEFSE’s so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Modified lyrics from Let It Snow! Let It Snow!Let It Snow! Songwriters: Jule Styne / Sammy Cahn

Lefse is the perfect antidote to the gray November blahs, when snow falls on green leaves, and we hunch over and bow to the lengthening darkness. It can be depressing … until you pull out your lefse grill!

Oh, to stand up to winter and not just sit and take it.

Oh, to boil the potatoes and steam the windows, blotting out whatever’s bad.

Oh, to work the dough and use the hands, quieting a fretting mind.

Oh, to roll and grill, roll and grill, roll and grill — meditation marked with thumping and hissing.

Oh, to watch the pile of lefse grow … soft, unassuming beauty.

Oh, to sit a while with your lefse and tea, savoring the best that’s yet to be.

Oh, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! There is lefse, indeed!

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Lefse: ‘High, Holy Food in My Family’

Ok, I’ll just say it. I’m tooting my own horn here. Not very Norwegian, but what the heck.

This is an email from Lorelei in California, who wrote this note when she ordered two copies of Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse. It made my day, my week, my whatever.

Hi Gary,

Your books are an absolute delight!! I am from Minnesota originally and have been transplanted to California after getting married. Lefse is high holy food in my family. Lutefisk … well that is another story : )

I am not sure how I first stumbled across your books … but I love them. Reading them makes me homesick and happy at the same time. They are food for my soul, especially around the holidays. I love, love, love the stories from The Lefse Trail [in the book Keep On Rolling: Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round]. You have a gift for capturing the essence of the people, the culture of small towns, and the sheer joy/madness of lefse. The various recipes and techniques are very helpful and interesting.

When I saw you wrote a novel, I knew I had to have it. My whole family enjoys your work. Thank you!!!
All the Best,

"Keep On Rolling!" Cover Image
“Keep On Rolling!” Cover Image
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It’ll Be Fun, They Said

So you would like to teach a group of kids to make lefse? Read this first.

“Have the Youth Group make lefse,” they said. “It’ll be fun,”

OK. Why not?

We polled the kids (grades 7-12) at Granville-Norwich Lutheran Parish, where I am Pastor. We asked the kids in this church in Granville, North Dakota, if they’ d be interested in using their next Youth Group time to do the work of making lefse for the annual church lutefisk dinner. A bit to our surprise, it was met with cheers of enthusiasm. Who knew these kids would be so eager to carry on this tradition generally in the purview of those women in the congregation in their 70s and 80s?

With a few tips from those matriarchs of lefse making and with their tried-and-true recipe in our hands, we gathered grills, flipper sticks, pastry boards, cloths and rolling pins along with the little socks that go on them. Another adult advisor and I prepared the dough, and it was cooled and waiting. We were ready for our big night.

On THE DAY, more than 20 kids showed up in the small church basement. They were excited and ready to roll!

Kids showed up at the church basement pumped to make lefse.

Things appeared to be going smoothly, but soon these same youth who just a week earlier had regaled us with tales of their experience making lefse with their grandmas or aunts now confessed they had been mere spectators to lefse making, or they were simply eaters. Some said they were completely unfamiliar with the process of making lefse.

So it began…

It wasn’t long before flour was everywhere. Rounds of lefse were produced that were as thick as the sole of a shoe and as dry as a cracker. Electrical outlets couldn’t hold the plug for the grills. Of course, there were sword fights with precious, keepsake lefse turners. The rolling pins were annoyingly squeaky. Dough was sticking to the rolling pin socks, pastry cloths, and the bottom of shoes; dough made its way into my car.

Adult advisors became crabby, really crabby.

The yield was about 100 rounds of unusable, almost inedible lefse … and lots of laughter, cooperation, and community building.

“Have the Youth Group make lease,” they said. “It’ll be fun.”

They were right.

Having fun and learning to make lefse one round at a time.