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Big, Big Batches of Lefse

To reduce the amount of toil in ricing potatoes when making big batches of lefse, I use an electric food grinder.

I am up late doing this blog for the newsletter because I’ve been making lefse dough, lots of it. In the morning, customers who ordered bags of lefse for Thanksgiving will pick up their rounds and folks will keep coming throughout the day. I love it! I get excited that so many people get excited about this tradition of serving good lefse for perhaps my favorite holiday. I can’t think of anything better than giving thanks.

I enjoy making these holiday batches, but it’s hard work. Of course, one way to reduce the work is to use instant potatoes. However, I like the flavor a little more that comes with boiling potatoes with the skins on, so I don’t usually go the instant route. With boiling potatoes to make lefse dough, I’ve learned how to lessen the work, so here are four tips on how to stress less and smile more when making mega amounts of lefse.

1. Use Instant Pots

You can schedule when you want your potatoes cooked with Instant Pots.to have

I boil potatoes in pots on the stove, plus I use Instant Pots. I can boil the same amount of potatoes in the Instant Pot as the pots on the stove, and I can program the Instant Pots to have the potatoes done at a certain time. They are electric, so I don’t have to use burners on the stove. And if I am not available when the potatoes are done, the Instant Pot keeps them warm for at least an hour. All in all, using Instant Pots gives me flexibility and makes it possible that I am not overwhelmed with all my potatoes getting done at once.

2. Use a Food Grinder

The grinder has a grinding plate with holes that are about the same size as ricer holes. After the potatoes are cooked, I peel the skins and use what’s called a stomper to feed the potatoes into an auger that pushes the spuds through the grinding plate (see opening photo). I skip the mashing potatoes step by using the grinder. However, I don’t skip hand ricing entirely. I hand rice the potatoes that have gone through the grinder to get as many lumps out of the dough as possible. I’m sure there is a grinder plate that has smaller holes yet, but I’m concerned that pushing potatoes through the grinder twice may leave them too soupy. Plus, ricing is traditional and not using a hand ricer in making lefse just wouldn’t seem right.

3. Use a Cushioned Mat

Get a cushioned mat that helps ease the strain on your feet and on up the line.

This mat is a must when I make lefse. I have one in my kitchen and carry one to markets when I roll there. Use one of these mats. Your feet, knees, hips and back will thank you — and let you know loud and clear when you are not standing on the mat when rolling.

4. Use Compression Socks

Keep your feet and legs happy wearing graduated compression socks. Ah, yes!

Keep your feet happy. After making lefse for hours and hours, my dogs are barking and my calves are calling! I have always used shoes with good arch support, but I also wear — and sell — Burlix Graduated Compression Socks. They are wonderful, and I’m not going back to plain old socks for lefse making. I also wear them when I do a lot of standing in the shop. And during the winter, they add a bit of warmth, which is always good.

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Gluten-Free Lefse Progress

Due North Gluten Free Bread Flour shows promise for making lefse.

In my ongoing campaign to find a gluten-free lefse recipe, I tried making lefse yesterday using Due North Gluten Free Bread Flour, which I discovered at last month’s Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota. Here is what I learned:

  • I substituted Due North’s GF flour for regular flour 1:1. However, when mixing the flour with my potato-butter-cream-sugar-salt mixture, I added one egg and mixed that in. I was told to do that by the Due North owners. The added egg created a sticky dough, so I added slightly more flour than what I normally add with regular flour just so this dough could be handled and rolled.
  • Rolling this dough with Due North’s GF flour was very good. Most GF flours make dough that is grainy, and the rolled out lefse rounds are thicker than normal and have an uneven edge with splits and cracks. This makes it impossible to roll a round round. Due North GF flour made a dough that could be rolled thin, and the edge, while not entirely smooth, had fewer irregularities than most rounds made of GF flour.
  • Turning the thin rolled-out round and transferring the round to the grill was also very good. The rounds did not fall apart, which often happens with rounds made of most GF flours. In fact, with many rounds made of GF flour, I have had to use two turning sticks to carefully lift one round to the grill. Not so, with Due North’s GF flour. No problem with the thin round hanging together.
  • Grilling was fine. My only wish is that the lefse would have been a bit more tender.
  • Taste was also fine. Jane Legwold, my wife who is gluten-free but not celiac, said the Due North had a little bit less of a potato taste but was good lefse overall. Butter spread on the lefse brought moisture to the round, she said, and this round made with Due North’s GF flour was more tender than lefse made with other GF flours — and she had no symptoms that she always gets with eating gluten. She added this lefse is not like tender, really good lefse made with regular flour by a really good lefse maker, but nothing is. All in all, thumbs up.
Lefse made with Due North’s gluten-free flour.
Happy Halloween!

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Hope for Gluten-Sensitive Lefse Eaters

Jane Legwold, who is gluten-sensitive, savoring her first lefse she has eaten in years.

You know that old joke about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much that … that he almost told her? Well, two days ago I loved that Jane Legwold, my wife pictured above, could now eat lefse — good lefse — that I almost told her!

Actually, I did tell her how genuinely happy I was that she could once again eat tender, tasty lefse after decades of abstaining or eating crumbly, inferior lefse made with gluten-free flours. To these flours I would add xanthan gum in a effort to replace gluten and hold the lefse dough together as I rolled and baked. Often, however, the rolled out dough, which was a bit crumbly, never became a round round, just a jagged splat. And the round regularly fell apart in getting it to the grill, to the point that I had to use two turning sticks and a delicate touch to do the job. The end product rolled up and eaten fairly soon after making it passed as lefse, I suppose, and was a blessing to those who could eat that or nothing at Christmas.

The last time Jane and I were at both our local coop and grocery store, we found Jovial einkorn flour. You can also find it online. Jane had heard about einkorn. It is a wheat NOT recommended for those with celiac disease. However, for those who are not celiac but are gluten sensitive, which Jane is, einkorn can be a just the thing because it is very low in gluten. It is made of wheat that has never been hybridized and has tiny grains with less carbohydrates, more protein and a surprisingly sweet flavor. Here’s how it is explained on the Jovial website:

Einkorn has never been hybridized and contains the original 14 chromosomes while modern hybrids have 42. Over time, in an effort to increase yield to feed a growing population, wheat was transformed from this simple grain to a high yielding modern food source that was versatile and hardy. Einkorn does contain gluten but the proteins that make up the gluten in einkorn are short, weak and brittle and break easily when mixed with water. Einkorn has a very different ratio of glutenins to gliadins which are the proteins that make up gluten. This property has made einkorn easy to tolerate by many who find the strong, stretchy gluten of modern wheat flour impossible to digest. 

“What Is Einkorn, and Is It Safe for Me?” on the Jovial website.

This all sounded too good to be true, but we bought the einkorn flour and I made a small batch of lefse dough with it kneaded in. I used my same recipe that I use for my regular lefse, but I simply subbed in the einkorn flour for the King Arthur all-purpose flour I normally use.

The dough was indeed sweet naturally and not crumbly. It rolled to make a round round. No jagged edges. I was encouraged. There were sticking issues, so I went extra light on the rolling pin and kept my rounds smaller than I normally roll, turning the rounds often in the rolling and moving them around my covered pastry board to prevent sticking. I also “sawed” my turning stick under each finished round to make sure the round was not sticking.

This lefse round with einkorn flour rolls out nicely without the ragged edges that are typical with lefse dough containing gluten-free flour.

So far so good. Now getting the round to the grill. Using just one stick, I lifted the round and rotated the stick to flatten the round on the grill. No problem! My excitement grew.

This lefse does not fall apart when transferring the round to the grill, which often happens with rounds make with gluten-free flour.

On the grill, the lefse browned beautifully, and the rounds were tender and soft after cooling.

I tasted the einkorn flour lefse, and it was very good. Moist, tender, tasty — just like real lefse! I was jovial!

But I am not gluten sensitive. Jane is, and with hope but also some fear that this einkorn flour thing was more marketing than truth, she spread butter on the round and rolled it. She slowly ate the round, waiting for the signs of how gluten affects her: trouble swallowing, aching joints, foggy thinking and bloating.

Nothing. No symptoms as the hours passed and in the next few days.

We are wary still that with repeated eating of the einkorn flour lefse, symptoms will return. But maybe not, and this is a very good sign.

Again, this is not for people with celiac, just for those like Jane, who are gluten sensitive.

I get asked a lot if I have a gluten-free recipe, and I always have to say no. I have not found a gluten-free lefse recipe that I can get behind. They yield lefse that is just passable. But I am hopeful about einkorn flour lefse dough. It makes lefse that is more than passable. It’s pretty dang good!

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Lefse Is Not a Hot Pad!

Sharon and Bob Hovland to my left at this year’s Potato Days Festival in Barnesville, Minnesota.

Everyone has a lefse story, at least in Lefse Land, and I hear lots of them when I sell at events such as the recent Potato Days Festival in Barnesville, Minnesota. The following story was told to me by Sharon and Bob Hovland of Barnesville, pictured above.

It seems that Wilma Fredrichs (Meyer) once traveled from Iowa to visit the Hovlands. Wilma musta chuckled when she told of the time she made lefse for a dinner, and when she finished placed her stack of lefse rounds on the dining room table. It was a potluck, and one of the guests arrived with a casserole, warm and ready to serve. With Wilma prepping food in the kitchen, the guest saw this distinctly attractive hot pad with brown spots on the table and, thinking Wilma had meant the hot pad was for the casserole, placed the casserole dish on the hot pad.

Wilma emerged from the kitchen, and all appeared to be ready on the table for the dinner … except one thing. “Where’s the lefse?” said Wilma.

The guests who brought the casserole didn’t know what lefse was and were flummoxed. Wilma figured out PDQ that the lefse was under the casserole dish and removed the dish.

Guest were blown away with the lefse (no surprise) and how tasty and tender it was … especially served warm.

Reminds me of this poem I wrote for The Last Word on Lefse:

"Here's What You Do With Lefse"

Use lefse as a shingle or
As chaps if you're a cowpoke.
You want a saddle blanket then?
Try lefse ... just a small joke.

What else? How 'bout as napkins or
As tire patches, too?
A bath mat made of lefse, though,
Is soon to turn to goo.

Lefse makes some nice diplomas.
As sheepskins, they would do.
If just Norwegians got them, though,
Who would you give them to?

It's just like toilet paper, but
That's simply lacking taste.
I say to those who make this claim:
"Lefse surely ain't for waste!"

Don't use it as a handkerchief
No, lefse wouldn't do.
To those who say that this is done
Just say that that snot true.

Alas, we've had some fun here
You have to know it's so.
The only use for lefse is
For eating, don't ya know.

From The Last Word on Lefse: Heartwarming Stories—and Recipes Too!

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The Spirit of Lefse: Roadside Stand

Taking lefse to the streets in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

Lefse is viewed as a limited edition of tradition, served at dressy Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with tablecloths and candles. But every summer, which is typically the lefse off-season, there are signs of life and vitality in Lefse Land.

Here are four examples:

  • I’m about ready to leave a wonderful fundraiser a couple of weeks ago when I’m invited into a friendly family feud about lefse. Which is better, brown sugar or white sugar on lefse? Of course, neither is better; it’s all personal. That bit of diplomacy didn’t fly, especially when Jane, my wife, jumped in and played the trump card by mentioning that I am the Lefse King. So I was pressed and said I prefer white sugar and cinnamon, which was the choice of part of the family but not the other, more vocal, part. The conversation went round and round, which supports my thesis that lefse and lutefisk are social ignitors. Mention those words at any—any—gathering and a lively and entertaining conversation will follow. This conversation ended with me and Mr. Brown Sugar bumping fists and smiling.
  • Back in June, Kristin Enger Niemi in Fresno, California, emailed that she usually makes her own lefse but couldn’t because she needed a shoulder replacement. Her 13-year-old son, Kurt, who had been making lefse since age 7, asked Kristin to make lefse so he could take it to school the next Monday. There was a happy ending because I made 15 rounds and FedExed it overnight so it arrived in time and in Fresno fresh.
  • Earlier this month, Jessie Turner in Spring Hill, Florida, sent an email on a Monday marked urgent. Oh dear! She needed 6 rounds of lefse delivered by Friday “for the star of a birthday party.” She could not find anyone from that lefse-less outpost to help her out. Could I fill the order and FedEx? I did and received a nice text from Jessie saying, “You have no idea how special this is for us to have for our celebration.”
  • Larry Lafayette of Minneapolis, who sends enewsletter items from time to time, sent this video of a lefse stand in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota (see photo). In the video, you’ll see Kathy Johnson and her grandchildren taking lefse to the people. She says she hopes their efforts will help make sure the grand old tradition will be “passed down to generations to come.” Someone say Amen!

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Africa, Lutefisk and Mopane Worms

African elephants were plentiful and breathtaking up close from a canoe. They were also chilling in my mind one night as they stomped by my tent.

“Travel expands the mind and loosens the bowels,” wrote author and physician Abraham Verghese in Cutting for Stone. This quote came to mind in my game safari last month to the Africa countries of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. An elephant stomped around my tent building in the first camp in Zimbabwe. It purred as it ate and moved (I didn’t know elephants purred), and I thought it was a lion sizing up its next meal. When it bulled its way through the bush inches away from the window near my ear, I knew it was an elephant and hoped a hip sway wouldn’t wipe out my sanctuary. It didn’t, but at breakfast a fellow traveler asked about my night. I told him of the elephant, and added that the incident was frightening enough to “end whatever travel constipation I had.”

The trip was a celebration of 50 years of marriage to Jane Legwold, and it was wonderful. Oh, the awe of finding and being really close to and hearing the hippos, hyenas, giraffes, lions, cape buffaloes, leopards, kudu, impalas and on and on. The spellbinding tales told by the guides. The history of these young countries in the context of colonialism. The tea times and sundowners in the bush. The elegant meals and deep conversations in camp. The sunny rains and rainbows of Victoria Falls. The spooky majesty of the baobab trees. The kindness and humor and constant singing — really good singing — of the people. By all means, go to Africa.

The spooky majesty of the baobab tree.
The singing group Amazulu introducing a song they sang for our group. Being sung to was a daily thing.
A hyena was as curious about us as we were about it one early morning.
Raincoats were a must in the mists of Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world and home of rainbows so low you can almost touch them.

Mopane Worms vs. Lutefisk

The safari was getting away, far away, from our normal lives in Minneapolis. No one knew of lefse and lutefisk, except when someone would ask about my books, and it was nice to escape and expand the mind. However, lutefisk came to mind when I ate mopane worms.

Mopane worms contain higher protein than other sources such as chicken and milk. In rural areas, worms are an affordable supplement for protein. Still, it is a worm, a fairly big, juicy worm that is fried with butter and tomatoes and served for dinner.

Mopane worms are an excellent source of protein.

Many people in our group politely declined, but Jane and I said sure, we’ll each try one mopane worm. After all, we had eaten lutefisk and lived to tell about it. Because of that, I felt my companions were at a disadvantage and perhaps secretly wished that they had been lutefisk lovers.

When the moment of truth arrived for the happy couple celebrating 50 years of marriage, I volunteered Jane to go first. She did but not quietly. I followed, getting on my knees in the dark hut where women prepared the mopane worms in a skillet over a low stove. Based on my first experience with lutefisk, I knew it was best not to think about it. I popped that critter in my mouth and chased it with a few tomatoes to buffer whatever may come next. The worm was salty and crunchy, which made me wonder about what is crunchy in a worm. I stopped wondering quickly; I didn’t want to know. I swallowed and smiled and headed out of the hut for fresh air and sunshine.

Mopane wasn’t bad, but I’ll take lutefisk any day.

My mopane moment.
Jane and I celebrated eating mopane worms — and 50 years of marriage — by having our faces painted before going to dinner.
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Marathon Lefse Making Made Easier

Get a cushioned mat that helps ease the strain on your feet and all muscles and joint moving up the body.

Tomorrow I make gobs (a lefse term) of lefse dough that will allow me to make heaps of lefse rounds on Friday. I will gently place these perfect rounds in plastic bags that will be picked up Friday by customers (in blizzard conditions, as it turns out) who often feel the pressure of either showing up for the Christmas gathering with lefse or don’t show up at all. Well, that’s overstating it, but these folks are on a mission, to be sure. Still, I feel the pressure to make their holiday lefse experience a great one, so I will be up very early Friday, along with the few newspaper carriers left, and rolling all day just to fill my orders.

I love it, by the way. This is game time!!

Now is the time for all good lefse makers to rise up and roll out the lefse. Maybe you have had your day-long lefse fest, or maybe your marathon awaits. Either way, here are four tips to help ensure that you can go the distance.

  • Get a standing mat. I got my anti-fatigue mat from Uline, and it is a blessing not only while making lefse but also when doing the dishes afterward.
  • Wear graduated compression socks. That’s why I sell socks, which I call Go Long Lefse Socks.
  • Add a Lazy Susan under your rolling board. Get Lazy Susan hardware at a hardware store and install it under your pastry board. Or order the Keep On Rolling Pastry Board — Lazy Susan from me. I use one because someone said I should try the Lazy Susan. I did and find I bend and twist much less than with a stationary board.
  • Get the Blue Pastry Board Cover. The blue cover not only makes it easier to avoid sticking, but you also use less flour when rolling lefse, which means you have less of a mess to clean up.

I know these tips are self serving, but I would not make these products unless they work in making lefse-making work easier.

In addition to the tips, during your long lefse making sessions, schedule breaks at least every 1.5 hours. Put your feet up and close your eyes for a few minutes. Have a cuppa tea. Call a friend. I also sit between every round and pump my legs in the air as I make the dough patty that becomes the next round. Finally, I like to watch some TV and listen to some radio. But I also relax into the quiet, especially early in the morning, that leads me into a lefse-rolling meditation. In this rolling zone, I solve all problems and think big thoughts. Pretty cool!

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Minot Mamas Keep On Rolling!

This family from Minot, North Dakota—led by Marilyn Lucy (standing far right) and Lanae LaBonte (standing second from left)—rallied around the Keep On Rolling apron — big time!

At the Norsk Hostfest last fall, I had the pleasure of visiting again with lefse friends Marilyn Lucy (standing far right above) and her sister Lanae LaBonte (standing second from left). I had not seen them since the pandemic started, but they are easy to talk with and time passed quickly. They are skilled at talking and shopping, I must say, and didn’t pull any punches when it came to purchasing a number of products, especially my new Keep On Rolling! aprons. I will let Marilyn and Lanae tell the story of how the aprons united the family at the holidays.

Our story started at the end of the Hostfest in Minot, 2022. We were still shopping Saturday as
the booths were closing. At Gary and Jane Legwold’s lefse booth, we fell in love with the
Keep on Rolling! Aprons. We purchased what they had left and had names embroidered for us
(Marilyn and Lanae) and Marilyn’s three daughters, Shanna, Taina and Kalli. We ordered more
and gave them to granddaughters and daughters-in-laws. Finally, we included the grandpas and
sons, all aprons personalized with embroidered names.

A grand total of 19 aprons!

A picture was taken at Thanksgiving of Marilyn’s family with their aprons. Lanae’s family, (sons
Donn and Robb, daughter-in-law Laura, grand-daughter Vaida and Grandpa Bob) will take
a picture with the aprons at Christmas.

Our grandparents came from Norway and Sweden. Our grandmother, Elydia Blomquist
Rystedt, taught our mother, Evelyn Rystedt Tande, the art of lefse making along with all things
Scandinavian. Evelyn passed this art to her daughters, Marilyn and Lanae. Her son, Gary, was
an excellent sampler! When Gary’s children were married, they were gifted lefse-making kits
and grills from aunts Marilyn and Lanae.

All three families including sons, daughters-in-law, daughters and sons-in-law are practicing
perfecting this art. We will keep on rolling!

Lanae LaBonte and Marilyn Lucy

I love this simple-yet-moving story. The 19 aprons are impressive, but even more impressive is how the ongoing quest of “perfecting this art” of making lefse, as Marilyn and Lanae put it, brings their family together in ways much deeper than what shows in their aprons. Well done! I have no doubt you all will keep on rolling!

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Thanks Giving: 8 Who Made a Difference

I woke up this morning in tears. I want to say the good kind, but all tears are good. I once heard that your tears are recorded in heaven.

This morning, my tears were in gratitude.

This is a thanks giving, and I am limiting my thanks giving to lefse. See, gratitude is like potato chips. You can’t eat just one chip no more than you can thank just one person who helped you along the way. You start saying thanks and you can’t stop. Like Scrooge on Christmas morn, you end up throwing open a window and shouting to the streets about everything from the marvels of one little snowflake to the miracles of modern plumbing. There is so much to life!

So, I’m focusing my thanks giving on lefse and eight people who are foundational to my lefse life.

Jane Legwold

Jane Legwold

This is where the tears really flow. She is there at my side throughout our days and our nights, and at the markets selling All Things Lefse while I roll lefse rounds. I am grateful that she enjoys talking lefse with customers, and soldiers through the hard work of setting up and tearing down our booth space. But more than that, for being my foundation and life partner. Jane has seen my worst lefse and my best, and the best is yet to be. On December 30th, we will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. This is what I wrote on the inside of the ring I gave her 50 years ago: “See you tomorrow, Hon…”

Jennie Legwold

Jennie Legwold

Grandma introduced me to lefse. Sadly, I never saw her make it, but lefse was always on the table when I traveled as a boy from Illinois, where I grew up, to Peterson, Minnesota, where she lived. Decades went by when I did not have lefse, but the fascinating look and feel and taste of lefse stayed with me until my middle age, when lefse called me home. The equation was lefse = Grandma. Everybody loves lefse, and everybody loved Grandma. What I loved most was her ability to accept others and herself, although if I were to have asked her about self-acceptance she would have simply chuckled. She was quiet, but not in a stern, judgmental way, and strong in a soft way that made you put down the pretenses and smile. When she served “a little lunch” that always included lefse, there was a green light to talk openly. She was what Jane Austin described when she wrote, ”Emma felt that she could not now show greater kindness than in listening.” I saw her in my dad, Conrad Legwold. And as I age, I see her in me.

Linda Bengtson

Linda Bengtson

I taught myself to make lefse and quit because the stuff was soooo tough. Terrible! I called it potato jerky. A year after I quit Linda, spouse to my cousin Denny Bengtson, gave me lefse for Christmas. It was wonderful. I asked how she pulled off this miracle of making good lefse. She gave me lots of tips, but I had done them all. Finally, she asked what kind of pastry cloth I used. I said, “What’s a pastry cloth?” That was the turning point. She gave me her recipe, which I have modified only slightly, and with a pastry cloth I began making good lefse. And when I brought my lefse to family gatherings, Linda would heap praise on me — loudly, so all could hear. I used every Norwegian deflection I could think of to get her to cool it, but she was not deterred. After hearing these praises year after year, I finally learned to just sit there and take it. Linda has passed on, but it is my turn to heap praise on her. She was my mentor, and I loved her. I would not be a lefse maker without her. I cannot imagine not being a lefse maker. Thanks, Linda.

Merlin Hoiness

Merlin Hoiness standing by an early lefse roller he invented. His mother-in-law gave it a thumbs-down.

Merlin was Mr. Lefse long before I came on the scene. He was a grocer who, along with wife, Zola, did lefse demos in Minnesota and Wisconsin while starting Norsland Kitchens, a lefse factory in Harmony, Minnesota, in 1981. The factory featured lefse rolling machines invented by Jim Humble. These machines are marvels and are still rolling at Norsland Lefse, the successor to Norsland Kitchens and located in Rushford, Minnesota. Merlin taught me that you must market lefse, get out with lefse lovers and understand their passion for this food. He wrote a small book called 91 Ways to Serve Lefse and was a hoot to interview. He said in my first lefse book, The Last Word on Lefse, that as a grocer he “could never keep people satisfied when it came to lefse. This was before factories were making much lefse. … In my store, I would use the lefse made by ladies in town and on the farms. I was actually bootlegging lefse, you see. The ladies weren’t checked out by the public health inspector. He’d come into the store and ask who made my lefse. Then he’d have to take it off the shelf and throw it in the garbage.”

Bitten Norvoll

Bitten Norvoll making lefse in her basement to confine the mess from flour dust.

In 1950, Bitten came to Minnesota from Norway, where she was born. She made lefse for me from her south Minneapolis home and was the embodiment that lefse is a Norwegian food. As I ate her lefse, her husband Torbjorn explained why lefse was so important to Norwegian-Americans. He said that with early emigrants “whenever they left, it was goodbye forever. So they would cling to anything—old diets, memories—anything that reminded them of the old country.”

Bitten added that for years you couldn’t buy lefse in stores, so to have lefse you had to make it yourself. Going through the motions of making lefse evokes far more memories, she said, than simply plunking down the cash in a store for a lefse package.

John Glesne

John Glesne, my man!

When I first started making lefse, it was a bit intimidating that all real lefse makers seemed to be women. Would I ever fit in? John’s answer, by example, was an emphatic yes. Part of my interview with him at his home in Decorah, Iowa, was this offer: “Hey, wanna beer?” Using a wedge, he also pitched a golf ball into a bucket in his living room after he made lefse. He was an easy-going good guy and keenly interested in not just making lefse but in making good lefse. That’s what I wanted to be, and John showed the way.

Jean Olson

Jean Olson

In my second lefse book, Keep On Rolling!, I interviewed Jean in her home in Deerwood, Minnesota, where she is known as the Queen of Lefse. (I’ve met lots of lefse queens, by the way, and a few lefse kings. And they all were beginners making the same mistakes we all make. So keep on rolling!)

Jean won the National Lefse Cook-off in 2005, an annual event that’s part of the Potato Days Festival in Barnesville, Minnesota. She won the contest rolling with dough that had not been cooled overnight or for hours in a refrigerator, which is customary, but was but a bit above room temperature. “I used to do that [roll cooled dough] but I didn’t like the way the potatoes rolled when cold,” she said. “Several years ago before my mother-in-law, Edith Olson, passed away, we both changed our minds on how cold potatoes needed to be.”

I now roll with room-temperature dough, thanks to Jean. Thanks, Jean, for your example of being willing to change your mind and trying something that can make lefse-making better.

Jean’s story leads into this tip: Do not to be a lefse snob. I have always learned from every lefse maker I’ve met. And I have always believed that there are many ways to make lefse, and not one is the best. As long as you are happy making lefse, go for it using the ways and recipe that are in your family or that you have found to be best for you.

Rev. Charles Colberg

Can switching to King Arthur Flour make much of a difference with lefse?

I don’t have a photo of Charles, so a photo of King Arthur Flour is going to have to do. Because he approached me as I rolled lefse at a market and started talking up this King Arthur Flour. I had never heard of it and was pretty happy with the flour I used, which was the cheapest I could find. He pushed me to give it a try because it would do wonders for my lefse.

I thought it was going to be hard to find, but I found it at Target — at twice the cost of most other flours. “Oh, what the heck,” I said, “there is no price on great lefse.” I bought it and, well, bottom line is I will never go back. The lefse dough is velvety-smooth, and the 11.7% protein helps keep the edges on my rounds together, so that I can actually roll a round round. And being able to roll a round round is a huge draw at markets and is hugely satisfying to the perfectionist perched on my shoulder. So, thanks, Charles, for that tip!

So these are my Great Eight who have helped me make better lefse. Thanks to you!

Here’s an idea: On this Thanksgiving, each of us thank those lefse makers who have helped us along the way.

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6 Reasons to Make Really Good Lefse

Jennifer Johnson, left, and Helen Priestly were my first lefse students of 2022. They head into the holiday season confident they can make really good lefse.

Many — many — students in my lefse classes come to class haunted by bad lefse-making experiences. They tell scary tales of being smacked on the hand when they speared a round with a turning stick. They confess to feeling the long, spooky shadow of a mother or grandmother who made perfect lefse and being intimidated when they rolled crappy rounds. Or they tried and quit in shame, putting on a brave face that it wasn’t meant to be … but always wishing they, too, could make really good lefse.

So I teach them, and I enjoy sending them off with loads of confidence, not to mention loads of their own fresh lefse.

Whatever bad past you’ve had with lefse, perhaps it’s time to look forward to your good lefse future. Not someone else’s good lefse, but yours. Here are six really good reasons to make really good lefse:

  1. You are cool to your grandkids. You may be old to them, but you’re not some fuddy-duddy who is a wall flower at family events. You, the lefse maker, are the star!
  2. You are in demand at holidays — big time! Not only does your phone ring as neighbors want lefse, but when food assignments are handed out for holiday dinners, you are not an afterthought, relegated to bringing boring buns year after year. Uh-uh. You are at the top of the list cuz you make really good lefse.
  3. Lefse shortens long winters. When you’re bored and blue with short, gray days of snow, snow, snow and long dark nights of cold, cold, cold, bring out the grill and roll lefse. Better yet, do it with friends.
  4. You are never alone. With lefse making, you are immersed in memories of fantastic lefse-making times with family and friends. Plus, when you start making really good lefse, the universe senses this and the world will beat a path to your door. As I wrote in The Last Word on Lefse, “Never alone, and seldom sad, the life of a lefse maker isn’t so bad.”
  5. Tradition. Many people don’t have traditions at the holidays. Lefse makers do, and it’s a long and grand tradition. Food is the foundation of tradition, and your interest in making really good lefse will lead you to a lifelong quest for finding out about your history and culture.
  6. You become royalty. Yes, I am the Lefse King, but I know a lot of Lefse Queens and a few Lefse Kings. There is not just one Lefse King, and my goal is to coach up students to the point where they feel they have a shot at becoming a Lefse King in their own land. Like me, you may not be wild about classism and elitism and all that, but that doesn’t apply in the very democratic Lefse Land where everyone has a chance to become a Lefse Queen or Lefse King. Just make really good lefse.

It’s time. Time to pull out your lefse-making stuff and start rolling the way you’ve been taught. And if you have not been taught and want to learn to make really good lefse, I’m here!