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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.

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Rolling Thawed Lefse Dough

As an experiment, I rolled three rounds of lefse dough to half the final width and then froze them. How would they roll weeks later when thawed?

A reader suggested I try rolling lefse rounds to half width and then freeze them. That way I can quickly finish rolling a few rounds of lefse when company is expected, and I’ll have fresh lefse without having to make the dough and roll the rounds the entire final width.

I was intrigued, so I rolled three rounds to half width and froze them in a plastic bag, each separated by parchment paper. But when I thawed them weeks later, it took 30 minutes or so for the dough to thaw. It became gooey and stuck to the paper. I salvaged the round by gently scraping off the dough with a paring knife. I could not roll the round in that condition, so I reshaped it and rolled it. The dough was soft and not leathery, as I had feared, and it rolled well, actually. The round turned out beautiful.

Three rounds that had been frozen and thawed and then rolled. All’s well that ends well.

Don’t think I will roll rounds part way and freeze again, but I will experiment next with freezing dough balls so I can unthaw them and roll fresh lefse in short order. Stay tuned.

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Lefse Song on the Big Stage!

Singer William Florian (left) and I in a glow after singing the lefse song “Keep On Rollin'” on the Reykjavik Hall stage at the 2019 Norsk Hostfest.

I was introduced to a packed crowd of about 500 lefse lovers as “Gary Legwood.” I was standing on the stage of Reykjavik Hall at the 2019 Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota, with singer William Florian. He was going to play the guitar and provide harmony on the chorus while I sang “Keep On Rollin'”, the lefse song I co-wrote with Erik Sherburne. The song is part of my second lefse book Keep On Rolling: Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round.

We were the warm-up act for the main event, the event that kicks off the Norsk Hosfest each year: the Celebrity Lefse Masters competition. This involves three teams of singers and comedians who compete when not performing their normal act at the Hostfest. The teams were Daniel O’Donnell and Bjoro Haaland, Williams & Ree, and the Nelson Brothers (sons of rock legend Ricky Nelson).

Daniel O’Donnell grabs the mic to coach his lefse-making partner Bjoro Haaland (in cowboy hat), while Terry Ree rips what he deems to be a shoddy lefse round rolled by Haaland.

The crowd comes for the laughs. The rolling tables are on the stage so the audience cannot see the rounds that are shaped like Ireland, as O’Donnell said, or the rounds that get burned. The rolling and the rolling in the aisles go on for about 20 minutes before each team submits its best rounds to the judges. I was one of five judges who chose the Nelson Brothers as the winner for the second year on a row.

When celebrity singers roll lefse in competition each year at the Norsk Hostfest, it draws a crowd in search of some laughs and one — just one — good round of lefse rolled by the celebs.

But back to being part of being the warm-up act for the Celebrity Lefse Masters. I was to sing “Keep On Rollin”, and then William Florian was to sing the lefse classic “Just a Little Lefse” by Stan Boreson. As I said, I was introduced as “Gary Legwood,” and I decided not to let that pass. My thought was if I was going to die up here on the Reykjavik Hall stage, I at least wanted to be wearing the right toe tag.

So I corrected the emcee, and introduced the song, saying I wanted to write lyrics for a song that honors the “noble resiliency” of the old-time lefse makers in their 80s and 90s who just keep on rolling no matter what. I kept my intro short, and then launched into the song.

William and I had gone through the song a couple of times that morning, and he wisely recommended trimming out the intro and the bridge, which I did. My anxiety was sky high and my voice was tired from talking about my books and lefse products all day at my table in the Author’s Corner. But William was wonderful in calming me down and focusing on having fun, which I did.

The video was taken with my phone by a friend standing in the wings. Check it out and leave a comment. How’d I do?

My big finish singing “Keep On Rollin'” while William Florian strums along on the guitar. The video is kinda bad (a last minute thing) but the song is pretty dang good.
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My First Bridal Shower/Lefse Class

Members of my first bridal shower/lefse class were L to R Leslie Pearson, Lulu Conner, Katy Best Conner (standing and then the bride to be), June Pearson, Acey Hofflander, and Cynthia Conner.

It was a the first Friday of this month, and Cynthia Conner and Lulu Conner arrived at my house 15 minutes early for the private lefse class. They brought wine and cheese with creative and delicious snacks. It’s not unusual for people to bring these treats for the class. It adds to the fun evening of learning to make lefse. But they also brought gifts in really fancy wrapping and bags—wedding shower gifts to be opened after the class. That was a first.

I didn’t know what to expect, actually. It was the end of a workweek and folks were tired from that, plus the wedding was only a week away. Would they all be too distracted to enjoy learning to make lefse?

Uh, no. We had a ball, and the class lingered into the evening long after the last round was rolled. Lefse has a way of adding to any occasion. Not sure if the lefse survived the week and made it into the wedding food offering, but I thanked the group for including lefse in such a big moment for the family. Tradition!

The best dressed person to ever take my lefse class was June Pearson. Classy lady, eh?

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Want Perfectly Round Lefse? Easy!

Chuck Ihlen from Pipestone, Minnesota, demonstrates a winning way to get lefse perfectly round.

Congratulations to Chris and Chuck Ihlen from Pipestone, Minnesota, for winning the 2019 National Lefse Cook-off at the recent Potato Days in Barnesville, Minnesota!

The contestants roll for one hour and submit their best round to judges in a separate room. I judged two years ago, and it was an honor. But it was also hard to do because all the lefse submitted was great!

As I watched this year’s batch of contestants, a tool that I had never seen before for lefse making caught my eye: a grease-splatter screen. Chuck used it after rolling each round. He admitted he cannot roll round lefse, so he cuts the round with a pizza cutter moving around the grease-splatter screen. Not for everybody but a very cool idea! I love that kind of innovation!

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‘Saw’ Your Way to Better Lefse

Stuck lefse? Save it with sawing.

When I teach lefse classes, students pick up the techniques quickly and leave smiling. Still, the biggest problem that I fix continually through the class is sticking. The student rolls out a beauty of round only to rip it when picking it up because the center (typically) of the round sticks. Bummer!

You can save a stuck lefse by using my Blue Pastry Board Cover. The blue lets you see sticky spots better and earlier so you can keep those spots floured. Yet even with the blue cover, you will have sticking from time to time. Here’s what you do:

  • Make it a habit to check for possible sticking before picking up the round with your turning stick. If you just assume no sticking and pick up the round, you may rip a masterpiece.
  • If you have sticking, slide your turning stick under the lefse so that it’s tilted at angle, and then slowly “saw” your way through the area that’s sticking.
  • To fix the sticky spot, scrape it with a knife and work flour into the area so that you don’t have sticking there again.
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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!