Ladies and Gentlemen of Lefse

This is a re-do of a post that was on the blog in 2008, before it was lost in the change of ISPs. Unfortunately the text is gone, but I have the pictures, so I’ll try and re-create the essence of lefse adventures this past few months.

As someone from New England and Swedish background the Norwegian lefse tradition was not something I learned of until I moved to Wisconsin, then across the river to Minnesota. I curiously got some in a grocery store, but I didn’t understand from the something less than fresh (as I know now) lefse what all the big deal was about, since people around me tended to talk about lefse in that tone usually saved for some favorite childhood memory.

What is lefse? It’s a thin Norwegian flatbread made on a grill, which usually contains potatoes. The easiest comparison for the uninitiated is that a lefse is like a flour tortilla, but sometimes thinner, and made with potatoes. And again, some might say, so what?

My perspective changed when friends invited me to join their annual cookie baking and lefse day three Decembers ago. Each person brings cookie dough to bake, and 3 lbs of peeled and cooked russet potatoes (THEY MUST BE RUSSETS I was told, so I followed directions) and a few sticks of margarine to the host’s house, where the other lefse ingredients (salt, flour, and powdered sugar) are provided. One person bakes off cookies while the others make lefse, and at the end, everyone goes home with a variety of cookies and lefse. I learned how to use the particular lefse equipment (Yes, they are single use cookware items, for those of you who wrinkle your nose at such inefficiency) I enjoyed myself immensely, and I began to understand lefse as a product.

Here are photos of the equipment from Mara, a re-located Minnesotan. She’s got the authentic Bethany Housewares stuff, and an OFFICIAL Lefse Cook-off apron from Barnesville, MN’s Potato Days.

That first year, I took my fresh lefse to a potluck dinner the same evening. It got rave reviews, and people told family stories about making lefse with their Norwegian relatives. There was a discussion of the “correct” way to eat lefse, what the appropriate condiments for lefse are, etc. Two people at the party confessed “I’ve got all the equipment to make it, but I can’t bear the thought of doing it alone…”. Now I began to understand even better. Lefse is not only tasty when it is fresh, it is also what barbecue is for people in North Carolina- a food item that creates community, controversy, and family loyalty.

This year, I finally made good on a promise I made to myself at that potluck- I organized a lefse-making event with folks from my church, the Unitiarian Universalist Fellowship of La Crosse, WI. Now that we finally have our own building, we had room in the coffee prep room to have this event after services one Sunday afternoon in December.

Like my other group, each person was to arrive with three pounds of cooked russet potatoes, and a stick of margarine or two.  I brought the flour and the salt and powdered sugar, as well as some ricers, and my new lefse kit.

There were 8 of us, a co-ed group of a variety of ages and experiences.  We had lefse equipment of various vintages- from my brand new grill to one that must be 50 years old, sticks of varying sizes and shapes, from the standard Bethany stick, to hand-carved, hand-sanded sticks from grandpa.

Making the lefse dough

Making the lefse dough

Here is Ulric, using those strong teenage muscles to rice the cold potatoes. ( I’ve since discovered that ricing is a cinch if the potatoes are HOT) Liz is mixing the dough:

  • 5 cups riced cooked russet potatoes
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick margarine or butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

After the dough was mixed,  it was shaped into balls about the size of a racquetball ball (smaller than a tennis ball, larger than a golf ball)

Making Balls of Lefse Dough

Making Balls of Lefse Dough

Here are Barb, Dianne, and Joyce forming the balls of dough, with Dave eyeballing the process in the background. Dave and Ulric valiantly riced all of the potatoes. We mixed up all of our dough to begin with, so we could do all the cooking at once. 21 lbs of potatoes makes a lot of lefse dough.

After we made all the balls of dough, we refrigerated them- some in the refrigerator (quel surprise), and the rest outside on a bench under the eaves. (December in Wisconsin- it was about 30 degrees F and snowing)

We had four lefse grills going, so we generally worked in teams of two, usually one person doing the rolling, and one person tending the grill.

Rolling and Cooking Lefse

Rolling and Cooking Lefse

Here Barb is cooking, and Joyce is rolling the next one.

Inaugural Lefse on my new Bethany Grill

Inaugural Lefse on my new Bethany Grill

Here’s my brand new grill with its first lefse. The first of many.

Ulric demonstrates how to use the lefse stick correctly

Ulric demonstrates how to use the lefse stick correctly

Ulric demonstrates the most fun part of making lefse (for me, and several others)- using a stick to lift and flip them. The fact that a stick is an important tool has got to be one of the main reasons children enjoy learning to make lefse, and why it allows adults to feel childish while doing so.

Joyce and Liz practice fencing moves

Joyce and Liz practice fencing moves

It’s hard not to have a good laugh while you do this. And laugh we did. Lefse takes time, but when you aren’t working alone, there is enough to do not to be bored (NEVER LET A HOT GRILL SIT EMPTY when it could be cooking a lefse, or it will take FOREVER to finish), but not so much to do that you don’t have time to be social, tell jokes, pass on bits of information, etc.

You can see that this group managed to have a little fun. Was this the lefse that looked like Mickey Mouse With a Goiter? Or was this one of the islands of the UK?

Mickey Mouse With a Goiter Lefse?

Mickey Mouse With a Goiter Lefse?

The social element of this day was great, and we produced about 94 lefse, since each of us (8 total) had 11 lefse to take home, and some lefse were eaten (quality control, of course). It looks like we’ll be doing this again next year, too. I’m glad I got the kit.

I’ve since made lefse a couple more times this winter, once for a potluck dinner, and once just for us at home. I’ve gotten myself a great ricer, (which also makes mashed potatoes a dream). We’ve served them with butter and sugar, which is classic, or with lingonberry jam, but I’ve also been known to eat them plain.

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