At long last, I can honestly say I have arrived! The honor of being asked to judge the Haikuff-Da Poetry Contest is … well, it’s the culmination of a career of writing four non-fiction books on lefse and lutefisk as well as my most recent book, a lefse novel called Final Rounds. How can I explain just what this honor means to me to judge the Christmas Traditions and Food Category, the highest of all categories, indeed? I have judged lefse contests at the top of the lefse world at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, ND, and Potato Days in Barnesville, MN. I have sung my lefse song “Keep On Rollin’” on stage at the Norsk Hostfest and at scores of speaking engagements. I have had the privilege of teaching hundreds of people to make lefse in my classes. But these career triumphs are merely prologue to judging the Haikuff-Da Poetry Contest. Yes, tears are choking my words, so I lean on the lyrics of Cole Porter when I say it’s the top, it’s …
The Tow’r of Pisa The smile on Mona Lisa The most—it’s the max!
Winners will be announced July 31, but I can give you a sneak peek of the quality of each haiku. These are four haikus that did not win because, perhaps in their excitement at pulling off a haiku about lefse or lutefisk, they did not adhere to the strict rules about the first line must be five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the third five.
Lutefisk, a food? You lye if you make it, and You lie if you like it.
Lutefisk or Glögg Uff-da what a choice that is Maybe I’ll just have both
Hot fire crackling At the window a frost bead My lefse sizzling
These are good and it is too bad there was a syllable miscount with each. Who knows, one of them might have won. Anyway, high marks to Ingebretsen’s for hosting the second annual Haikuff Da Poetry Contest. Check for the winners July 31.
Lefse friend for life David Sumnicht said as we played a recent round of golf that he had picked up a lefse book that wasn’t mine. Of course I knew that authors other than me had been moved to write non-fiction books about lefse, but I was intrigued when David said this book was a novel. Well, well!
When I describe my novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse, I call it my lefse novel if I am in a rush. But it is actually about grief. A 12-year-old girl’s grandfather dies. While she mourns his loss, she delights in the lefse-making memories they shared, especially one night of 26 inches of snow when they had little choice but to make 630 rounds of lefse and examine Papa’s eight rather goofy rules of life.
I have read and recommend The Invention of Lefse: A Christmas Story, by Larry Woiwode, Poet Laureate of North Dakota and writer in residence at Jamestown College. His work has been featured in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic. He’s an honored and awarded writer, so I was thrilled that, like me, he also has found inspiration in this humble flatbread lefse.
The novel is only 63 pages, and I was driven to find out why lefse was invented. There is the suggestion of lefse half way through the book, but it is not until page 51 that the word lefse appears. It has been invented out of desperation and transforms the Christmas meal of a Norwegian family in the first decade of the twentieth century, two years after Norway gained independence.
I didn’t know what to expect. I knew people would appreciate fine art combined with a functional heirloom lefse rolling pin, but I didn’t know if anyone would appreciate these pins enough to pay $1,200.
Well, I now know. The King’s Rolling Pin has sold!
Rolling out new lefse products is exciting. It’s fun to create new products that improve lefse making and strengthen the lefse tradition in the process. These products draw out people in the marketplace who are searching for distinctive and useful lefse products. It’s satisfying to match the right product with the right customer. It was especially satisfying to match a customer with The King’s Rolling Pin. The customer was thrilled to find the perfect wedding present for a friend’s daughter.
The Queen’s Rolling Pin is all that remains of the three masterpieces Dan Larson made to match the contest-winning rolling pin that’s on the cover of Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round. Dan has said that’s it; he won’t make another. If you think it to be the perfect gift—even to yourself—please purchase. But I admit that it would not be a bad thing if The Queen’s Rolling Pin is not sold. Heck, I just might buy it to use and pass on in honor of Keep On Rolling!
This is lefse for those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, as the old Nat Cole song says. Yep, it’s too darn hot (Cole Porter) to make a big batch of lefse, right? But where there’s a will there’s a way, so OK, we’re going to use one potato to make four rounds of lefse in 40 minutes.
1 potato baker size (russet is standard but you can use any kind of potato) 2-3 tablespoons butter 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon powdered sugar 1/8 cup cream ½ cup flour, extra for rolling pin and rolling surface
Makes about four lefse.
Cube and pressure cook the unpeeled potato for about 5 minutes. Microwaving a whole unpeeled potato poked with holes for 4 minutes and then 4 more minutes after turning is an option, but sometimes the potato dries out too much.
Peel skins from cubes, mash, and rice twice to remove small lumps that could tear the rounds when rolling. Result is about 1 cup of riced potatoes, depending on the actual size of the baker potato you choose.
Melt butter in saucepan and mix in salt and powdered sugar until dissolved, or nearly dissolved.
Stir butter-salt-sugar mixture and cream into the riced potatoes, and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Cover with towel or paper cloth and let stand while you set up rolling station and lefse grill.
Knead in flour and let dough stand at least five minutes to allow the gluten in the flour to do its thing of holding the dough together when rolled thin.
Roll 3-4 four rounds of lefse.
Enjoy with iced tea.
Notes: When I first tried this One-Potato Lefse, I stuck to my trusted recipe based on 3 cups of riced potatoes. But I found the lefse was dry and lacked flavor, so I slightly increased the amount of butter, sugar, salt, and cream. That made for more flavor but also a wet dough that some might call sticky.
Many lefse makers recoil at the idea of rolling sticky dough, especially when it has not had a chance to cool, which is the case here with lefse in 40 minutes. I am OK with this because I go light on the rolling pin and turn the rounds several times, which prevents sticking.
So be flexible and adventuresome. Trust your lefse-making skills this summer and give One-Potato Lefse a try.
When the kids came into my life, I was terrified. I explain my fears in this video I made at the request of my minister. She asked for my reflections, as a white grandfather of two grandchildren seen as black, on protests stemming from George Floyd’s killing. I gladly agreed to do the video because it helped me think and feel and not just fear. The video served as the intro to a song I sang for the service that streamed online last Sunday. The song is “Hold On”, a song about holding onto faith. I won’t take you into the service and the singing of the song, but please watch this two-minute video.
The takeaway is that my fears turned out to be the foundation of a blessing, one of the biggest blessings of my life. I learn about race daily because of the make-up of my family—and I got two great grandkids as part of the deal!
I write and speak and teach about lefse, primarily, with a little bit of lutefisk on the side. I do it because I want to preserve and pass on lefse and lutefisk traditions to my family and others. Some have asked that with such diversity in my family, am I concerned that the lefse-lutefisk tradition will die off in my family when I die? Sure, but I would worry the same if my family were all white. Passing on traditions is a concern, period, for all parents.
I go back to what I said in the video: Love wins. The love between my grandchildren and me has overridden my fears and has led to their love of lefse and the lefse-making tradition. My 12-year-old granddaughter Amaya rolls lefse and has helped with my lefse classes. My grandson, Zo? Let me tell you a lefse story about Zo.
A Lefse-Rolling Lesson
Last holiday season at the local farmers market where I do a lefse-making demo and sell my books and related products, Zo asked if he could roll a round. He and Amaya help with setting up and tearing down our table, and with selling. I pay them handsomely.
Ten-year-old Zo is a natural in the market, checking out other exhibits and chatting up and charming vendors—who reward him with free samples. When he asked to roll a round of lefse, he understood that all eyes are on lefse makers as they roll; it’s just too cool to ignore. But he was undaunted because he wanted to do this cool thing.
I have coached him, but mostly he learns by watching me and then trusting his own style. He started to roll just as two white customers came to the table and asked me lefse questions. As I answered, I realized they were not listening to me but were intent on watching Zo roll.
I feared they may say something about race, something about a black little boy making a Norwegian food. It is the same fear I have had since I put up my Black Lives Matter sign in my yard many years ago. Would it scare away those who take my lefse classes? No one has ever said anything about the sign. I imagine a few have had issues with it, but I also believe in the good in people. I believe most have come to support this movement toward justice and away from racism. I see more and more of these signs in my white neighborhood, so I do believe people want justice for blacks — and that black lives do matter, just as they do for me.
My other fear regarding Zo in the market that day was that
he was rolling a rag of a lefse round and that the customers were in horror as
this lefse-making train wreck was unfolding. I followed their eyes to the
pastry board … where Zo was rolling a perfectly round lefse round!
I smiled and turned back to the customers, who were aghast.
One of them finally said, “I can’t do
The customers smiled at Zo and congratulated him repeatedly
on his lefse round.
After the customers moved on, Zo the charmer started working
on his grandfather. “Papa,” he said, “you know what I’m doing here for you,
right?” Meaning, Zo was drawing paying customers to the table, not only because
he’s so dang cute but also because he rolls a pretty dang good lefse round. He
was angling for a tip.
“I’m way ahead of you, Zo,” I replied. I knew where he was going the minute he shrugged his shoulders in an “oh, by the way” fashion and said, “Papa …”
At the end of the day, I paid him handsomely … and gave him
a handsome tip.
Ever since publication of Keep On Rolling! a steady stream of customers at the farmers markets I do would ask if Dan would sell that cover pin or could re-create another. Sell it? Absolutely not, says Dan. That stays in his family, and they use it during the holiday season to make lefse.
Understandable that Dan would not sell that pin, but would he make another? Several customers have asked, I said. At first, he declined. Finding the right burl to create an eye-popping barrel was not easy, and the hours and hours of handwork that goes into those handles put him off.
I let it go until last Christmas, when yet another customer asked about having the cover pin re-created. Dan was still hesitant, but he threw out a price high enough that he figured it would put off customers who kept bugging him about making this pin. Turns out, price was not an issue; the customer wanted it for her mother who was in her 90s. She made a deposit, and Dan began his search for wood.
Oh, the Pressure
People who create masterpieces wince at these three words: “Do it again.” Dan explains: “I felt a lot of pressure with duplicating that first pin I did for the contest. I like doing new stuff, freelancing, following the wood to see where it leads. So I was resistant, thinking I had to come up with something as good as the original or better, making sure it was up to my standards of quality. It was a grind but a good exercise in testing my skills.”
His first challenge was coming up with a burl in winter. He had one in his stock, but that didn’t pan out. “I thought, ‘Holy buckets! What am I going to do now?” Dan says. He got help from fellow lefse rolling pin maker and MWA member Bob Puetz, who provided several cherry burls. Even with those burls, Dan had three “crashes” before he got one burl that was not “punky” wood (without big cracks and pits that characterize burls). From that one burl, Dan managed to turn three rolling pin barrels.
Handles: Less Drama, More Diligence
Dan turned many more handles than he needed for the three rolling pins, just in case some handles didn’t turn out the way he wanted. The turning was less of an issue than the detail work. It took countless hours of carving and burning a black band that makes five evenly spaced turns from end to end. This detail work was inspired by the designs and techniques made famous by Avelino Samuel of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Between the solid burned band is a barber poling band of about a billion burned dashes that are the finishing touches to a fabulous piece of art. And then to show off the rolling pins, Dan made cherry stands shaped like a Viking ship.
Oh, by the way, this is a functional piece of art with a stainless steel rod and food-safe stainless steel bearings.
Never Say Never
Dan finished with three masterpieces. The customer had her pick and was thrilled with the result. The other two I sell as The Queen’s Rolling Pin …
Whatever I call these masterpieces, Dan calls it quits. “No more,” says Dan about making more lefse rolling pins with this design. “There was a lot of pressure. And the time, oh! Finding the right burls and then getting the details on the handles. I was in the middle of making one handle and said, ‘Damn, I forgot how long it took to carve and burn all these marks.’ No, this is it. I may make another one for love, but not for money.”
Fair enough, Dan. You can rest knowing you have made your mark of beauty on the lefse-rolling community.
In these troubled times, I find comfort and inspiration by starting my day with meditation and then saying two prayers, two Psalms and two Bible verses, Jeremiah 17 verses 7 and 8.
These Jeremiah verses, by the way, are the same verses Mrs. Taylor (above) recited loud and proud when she needed strength and courage as a young woman in a new town far, far from home. Mrs. Taylor is a pivotal character for 12-year-old Amaya, the main character in my novel, Final Rounds: On Love, Loss, Life, and Lefse.
Here are the beautiful verses:
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17: 7-8
I offer this passage in the hopes you do the same. Do you have a favorite verse in the Bible or a favorite prayer or poem that carries you through the day? If so, I hope you will share it in the comments below or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing the world to stop and shelter and wait as the public health storm clouds build. It’s quiet, once inside your shelter, with no sports or concerts to distract and very little human contact to help soothe your troubled soul.
Normally, this is a quiet time in Lefse Land, the off-season when grills and turning sticks are shelved. But this is not a normal time, and I sense that all is not quiet on the lefse front. Just today, I received an email from lefse and rosemaling rock star Shirley Evenstad of Minneapolis, who was featured in my book Keep On Rolling! Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get a Round.She wrote that she was thinking about me today as she boiled five large russets, cut into long strips for cooking, which only took 10 minutes in salted water. Then for ricing she put them through her new Kitchen Aid grinder using the smallest grinding disk, thus only running the spuds through once. In other words, she was tweaking her method. “A person can learn a lot about procedures,” she wrote, “if you are always trying to improve your efficiency. … I do love making lefse!
I have no doubt Shirley is not alone. People love making lefse, and if there was ever a time to steep yourself in the calming rituals of making this traditional food, it’s now.
Lefse is a touchstone in my life, so I’ve been trying lefse recipes that I had heard about but had considered too weird and therefore unworthy of my lefse efforts. Last Sunday, I tried lefse using purple/blue potatoes and sour cream as a replacement for cream. Also, sweet potato lefse.
Purple Lefse With Sour Cream
Blue/purple potatoes are not easy to find, but when I saw them in my local co-op, I snapped them up. After boiling, I peeled and riced, enjoying their distinct earthy aroma and how lively they looked in the bowl. When ricing and stirring in butter, sugar, salt, and sour cream, it felt like this was a stout potato that made for more effort when mixing than with russet potatoes.
The sour cream? I had heard about sour cream lefse and had always wanted to try this. So why not? I just removed the whipping cream and replaced it with the same amount of sour cream.
Because the dough seemed denser than dough from russet potatoes, I reduced by feel the amount of flour, and started to roll and grill. The edges of the rounds were a little more jagged that I would have tolerated in a russet round, but the strength of the dough ensured that the rounds would not fall apart when lifting to the grill.
When I put the round on the grill, it became a pretty purple progression of dark purple changing to light purple from the right side of the round, the side that went on the grill first, to the left. Cool!
The taste? Wonderful! I ate this lefse plain, with butter, and with butter and cinnamon sugar, and it was all good, very good.
Sweet Potato Lefse
The message is short and sweet here: Try sweet potato lefse.
Sweet potatoes are a super health food and can be super colorful. Boiled and mashed and riced, the neon orange sweet potatoes were a sassy contrast to my blue bowl. Making this batch of lefse was going to be really fun!
I boiled the sweet potatoes too long, and after I added butter, sugar, salt, and cream, I had a wet, wet mess. I do not fear wet dough, but this was the wettest batch I had ever worked with.
And yet, with a goodly amount of flour, it worked and the dough rolled beautifully …
And bubbled and browned like potato lefse.
I was worried the taste would be too sweet potato-y. But no, the sweet potato taste was subtle enough that I was satisfied this was still lefse and not a hokey gimmick.
Some people may be put off by the non-traditional look of purple and orange lefse. They may say not to mess with a good thing, and let lefse be lefse. Tradition! Not me. Bring it on! There’s room in Lefse Land for all sorts of lefse.
I went shopping for flour the other day, to make lefse. In one grocery store, shelves were empty of King Arthur Flour, my favorite, and all flours. So I went to another store. Empty. The coronavirus pandemic had sheltered us all, and folks were stocking up (for how long?) on flour, toilet paper, cereal, pasta and pasta sauce, disinfectant wipes, etc.
So here we are, in our homes swinging from fear to gratitude to grief to disbelief to prayer. What-if questions nudge us in the night, and virus and economic news is dire throughout the day.
When we need it most, we can’t hug. We have to shun each other and swerve away from approaching walkers — who, like us, are trying to find relief in movement and nature. When we need it most, we can’t meet to sing or worship or to simply share a piece of pie and sip our tea.
But we still have lefse. For those of us in Lefse Land, that’s no small thing. Making lefse calms our internal troubled waters and puts us in touch with other lefse makers who have lived through tough times.
Both Bitten and Torborn were from towns north of the Arctic Circle; she was from Narvik and Torbjorn from Andenes. They lived through the three-year German occupation in World War II.
Three years. As I made lefse and remembered Bitten’s fresh smile, I wondered how the today’s questions of “How long?” and “How bad?” were the same then for Bitten and Torbjorn. We’ve been pressing for answers about COVID-19 for weeks now, but how did these questions about the Nazis and the war change over the course of years under life-death conditions that were similar to ours today?
Occupation. Today, we are directed to stay in for our own safety and the safety of others. Back then, many Norwegians were told to get out. “Two days before Christmas my family was told we had twenty-four hours to get out of the house, or we’d be thrown out bodily,” said Torbjorn. His family moved to an apartment above a store; three rooms for traveling officers were also on the floor. His family’s house, which his family didn’t re-occupy until three months after the war ended, was converted to a hospital. Bitten said Norwegians were forced to turn out lights at night and read only German newspapers.
Thinking of the temporary shortage of flour and other foods today, I recalled what Bitten said in the chapter I wrote about the Norvolls. “During the occupation we could buy potatoes, and we knew so many ways of using potatoes. We couldn’t buy much milk or butter or margarine — or a decent flour. The flour we could buy was so heavy. You’d bake bread, and the outside was hard and crusty and the inside just a lump of dough.”
Bitten and so many others of that Greatest Generation made it through. They must have wondered how they would do it. But they did it, together, a day at a time. As we look ahead with hope and fear, we can gain strength in looking back at the Bittens in our lives.
Bitten was one of the lefse makers in my mind when I wrote the lyrics to “Keep On Rollin’: A Lefse Song for Voice and Piano” (copy of front page below). Erik Sherburne wrote the music with the idea of honoring the resilience of the old ones, those lefse makers in their 80s and 90s who keep on rolling through whatever life throws their way. I especially like the bridge of the song:
A lefse maker I once knew she said here’s what you do
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.
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.
Jim is not an inscriber, but he did a pretty darn good job fulfilling the family’s wish (see below).
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.