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The Poor Potato—From Pity to Praise!

This is the kind of lefse-powered person (I never got the name of that stranger in town) who attends Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota—and a big reason why I open my lefse season there each August.

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 I go to Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota, at the end of each August.

Potato Days
Potato Days

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, which I describe in Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get Around.

Betty Rud competing in the Potato Days annual 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. Please stop by my exhibit on Front Street, where I will sell my books and all things lefse and lutefisk.

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The Truth About Freezing Lefse

After freezing, my lefse is not perfect … but it’s pretty dang good!

Last March, I fretted about freezing lefse. That even after all these years of making lefse and teaching lefse making, I was not confident about freezing my rounds. I asked for help from my readers, and received it, of course. Lefse makers got each other’s backs, right?

Bonnie Sellner said: “I fold the lefse in half and then again in half and have a triangle. I stack three of these. Then, wrap in Press n Seal. Then freeze. These packages are easy then to just take out of freezer as needed. These are so easy for mailing out to my relatives.”

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.”

And Connie Bowers wrote: “I have kept lefse frozen for one year and it was still edible.”

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

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.

So after all my fretting, I froze lefse last March and then forgot about it. Until today, nearly half a year later. Is the lefse “edible?”

I dig around in my overpacked chest freezer, curious to see if the lefse is still in a flat position or is buried under a big chunk of boneless sirloin steak or a pile of mint chocolate chip Klondike bars my grandkids go to when they come to visit. Amazingly, the lefse is flat!

I remove one piece along with the parchment paper that covers it. I check both sides of the lefse. One side looks fine, but for some reason the other side looks emaciated, like it has freezer burn! “Poor lefse,” I think, “what have I done to you?”

I let it thaw in a plastic bag so it doesn’t dry, and I wonder if I would serve this to another lefse lover.

Thawing is surprisingly fast. Within minutes, the lefse is soft, and the supposed freezer burn has disappeared. It looks and feels like real lefse!

I pop the lefse in the microwave for seven seconds, which softens the lefse a bit more. I spread butter and cinnamon and sugar, and I am ready for the taste test.

The lefse is more than edible; it’s very good! Taste and texture are excellent!

The truth about freezing lefse is my perfectionism is peeking through. I make wonderful lefse, like many of my readers, that brings oohs and aahs when served fresh. So I have to accept that frozen lefse—and there are many ways to freeze it—cannot be the same as fresh lefse. Fresh is fresh. I try to serve fresh lefse whenever I can, but there are times when I can’t. So I can let go of my perfectionism (yet again) and be proud to serve frozen.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

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A Peek at the Lefse Novel

This is very close to the final version of the cover of Final Rounds. The novel will be available in August.

All the writing and editing for my new novel are done, and Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse is in the final stages of production. My designer, Jenny Mahoney, is laying out the pages and incorporating the 20 color illustrations by Heather Bassler Zemien. Exciting!

I call Final Rounds a lefse novel. Let me explain. It is a novel about grief for people 12 and over. Certainly, there is sadness with loss, and the novel brings tears throughout. But the bulk of the book is a set of sweet and funny and moving recollections by Amaya, a 12-year-old whose grandfather, Papa, has passed away the day the book opens.

One of Amaya’s memories is of a snowbound night of making 630 rounds of lefse. In this night, Papa explains to Amaya his rather goofy Eight Rules of Life, which includes a rule on how to handle failure in general and in particular in learning to make lefse. Here is part of the rule and part of the conversation that follows. By the way, the rules are presented in verse and the conversation is also in verse—part of the creative fun in writing fiction!

First, Papa expounds on failure in general:

Does failure mean you will not succeed?

Failure, my girl, may be just what you need…

Failure may mean that something is lacking.

Is backing behind a façade that is cracking?

 

Failure is often ’tween you and your dream.

Your boo-boos and flaws are not what they seem.

Failure’s an invite: Develop. Be humble.

Strengthen your weakness so you will not stumble.

And then Amaya responds with a question about wanting to learn to make lefse but fearing she will make bad lefse, which is a common concern for beginners. So Papa gives a a lesson, passing on the tradition of lefse making.

“Papa,” said I, “may I ask this of you?

“I want to roll lefse, so what shall I do?”

 

He stopped rolling lefse and stared at me so.

“Yes, my granddaughter, this skill you should know.

“What am I thinking? You should roll; it’s time!

“You’re steady, you’re ready—you’ve entered your prime.”

 

He gave me his pin, wood smoothed by his love.

Was I nervous and tense, apprehensive? Sort of.

“Roll dough in your hands and please make a patty.

“Its edges have cracks? Your round will be ratty.

 

“Amaya, my dear, don’t bang and don’t squish.

Let the pin work—if not, you’ll have ish.

“Start round and stay round, check always the shape.

“Lift at the edges; roll thin as a crepe.

 

“Flour them well, your board and your pin,

“For flour will stop your round from stickin’.

“Turn your round once when rolling’s half done,

“Then finish the rolling—that’s it, have some fun!”

 

I smiled and I tried, and I tried once again.

Yikes: one round was shaped like Lake Michigan!

The next was Kentucky, and the next round like Maine.

Texas, New Mexico—no two were the same!

 

 Papa just smiled and said, “It’s OK.

“Keep rolling, Amaya, and do not dismay.

This is one of the many tender moments in Final Rounds. I will keep you updated, and you will be the first to know when the book is published in August.

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The Lefse Novel News

Early sketch by Heather Bassler Zemienof some of the 28 bowls used to make dough for the 630 rounds of lefse rolled in my novel Final Rounds, which is on schedule to be published this summer.

I have written four non-fiction books on lefse and lutefisk, and now I have written my first fiction, a novel that will be published this summer. It is called Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life and Lefse.

You may notice that I dropped the Yes from the title. Too many words and commas with Yes included. That’s an example of how a book emerges and evolves with edits. I am grateful to have several readers who have given feedback and changed the book. And it is humbling to see how much better the novel gets with the work of Kathleen Weflen, who has edited all of my books, and Shannon Pennefeather Gardner, who has copy edited my last two books.

The drawing of the colorful bowls above by Heather Bassler Zemien is another example of how a book emerges and evolves. You saw an early sketch of the novel’s cover in a previous post, but the cover image has changed, which you will see when the cover is finalized (soon). Here you see a start—a messy, incomplete genesis—of mixing bowls used to make lefse dough in a chapter where Amaya, the 12-year-old main character, makes loads of lefse with her grandfather and Mrs. Taylor.

The point: The creative process begins with a mess of words and lines that form drafts and sketches that form beautiful illustrations and wonderful chapters in a book. Don’t judge the early mess. Keep working with it. Get help. Accept help. It’ll be fine. … I’ll be saying this to myself many time in the next few months before publication!

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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.