Lefse

Since a lefse pin spattered with blood is on the cover of my latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the murder weapon is. . . you guessed it, a lefse pin.

Heritage of Darkness 1

Which has led some readers to ask, What the heck is lefse, anyway?

Lefse is a round flatbread usually made with mashed potatoes (which used up old potatoes, and kept the bread soft) and baked on stovetop or griddle. It was a staple in the diet rural Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans in the 19th century.

LEFSE

This old stereocard image shows a Norwegian woman making lefse on an outdoor griddle. A lefse stick is used to turn the paper-thin round of dough.

I was introduced to lefse when I worked at Old World Wisconsin. Lefse was frequently made at the Fossebrekke cabin, home to young Norwegian immigrants.

KAE at Fossebrekke Web

That’s me at the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin in 1982.

potato masher

Hand-cranked potato masher, Fossebrekke cabin, Old World Wisconsin.

The heavy wooden pins used to roll the dough were deeply scored or grooved, which helped reduce air bubbles, pulverize any bits of unmashed potato, and keep the rounds of lefse quite thin and pliable.

lefse pins - Version 2

Two pins on exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

lefse pin

This pin’s groove’s are nearly worn away. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum Exhibit)

In Norwegian-American communities it can still be found in local stores. . .

Schuberts Mount Horeb lefse

Schubert’s Diner and Bakery in Mount Horeb, WI.

. . .often folded into quarters and offered fresh or frozen.

lefse sale

Oneota Co-Op, Decorah, Iowa.

Although fewer and fewer people make lefse at home, it still holds a special place in good Norwegian-American hearts. Many people have memories of mom or grandma boiling Russet potatoes and making lefse on special occasions.

Last year my friend Martha invited me to the local Sons of Norway – Valdres Lodge Norwegian Constitution Day Dinner on May 15, held at the Washington Prairie Lutheran Church outside of town.  (Learn more here.)

On the way, she told me that when the church needed a new roof, several elderly members of the congregation made hundreds of lefse. They announced sales, to be held at a bank in town. Sales were brisk, and the money raised helped buy the new roof.

DSCF5941

A few weeks later at Nordic Fest, a celebration of Scandinavian heritage and pride held in Decorah each summer, another small army of  lefse bakers reported for duty.

lefse Nordic Fest - Version 2

Warm rounds of lefse are delivered from the griddle to eager buyers, who add whatever toppings they prefer.

lefse Nordic Fest

I’ve read that 10,000 lefse are served at Nordic Fest each year.

lefse Nordic Fest

Me, I love lefse spread with butter and brown sugar, then rolled up tight. Maybe a touch of cinnamon. Or lingonberry jam.

Decades ago, I bought a lefse pin at an antique store.  I don’t know how old it is, or who used it, but I liked to wonder. Who once used it to roll out a bit of home or heritage on a flour-dusted table?

lefse pin

My lefse pin is much larger than my regular rolling pin.  Heavier, too.

And one year, while working at Old World Wisconsin, the Norwegian-area interpreters gave me this lovely rosemaled lefse pin at the end of the season. While I treasure the stick, I must admit that I’ve never made lefse at home. After learning how on an antique stove in an 1845 cabin, it just wouldn’t feel the same.

lefse pin

This stick has had a place of honor in my kitchen for 25 years.

At the launch party for Heritage of Darkness held at Mystery To Me (in Madison, WI) I witnessed lefse’s popularity all over again.  My talented baker friend Alisha brought a gorgeous cake.  She also brought a plate of lefse made by Lutheran church ladies, and rolled up with butter and cinnamon and sugar—the combination she’d learned from her Norwegian grandmother.

People who’d never tried lefse were eager for a sample. People who had their own fond memories of lefse munched happily, reminiscing.

Alisha with lefse

This plate of lefse disappeared fast. Really fast.

I think the generations of long-gone lefse makers would be pleased.

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13 Responses to “Lefse”

  1. Pamela Says:

    Oops. Lost the rest of your post and now I don’t know what a lefse pin is!

    When I hit “Read more of the post” I got an error message.

    Looks intriguing!

    Best, Pam

  2. Rosi Says:

    Wonderful! I haven’t had lefse in years, but I would love to try it again. I will have to search around northern California and see if I can find a source. Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane.

  3. Ruth Nelson-Lau Says:

    This post is so timely. Our church ladies are in the midst of making lefse right now. We used to have a lutefisk & meatball dinner every year, complete with all the lefse you could eat, then buy some to take home with you. It was a lot of work and no one wanted to be in charge any more. It is greatly missed. So a few years ago we got out the lefse pins, put their stockings on, got out the rolling cloths and made lefse and Swedish meatballs to sell. We also have baked goodies, including krumkaka , rosettes, Sandbakkels , Swedish rye bread, and many other wonderful things. It is the major fundraiser for our women’s group. We have several men who join us to help with the potatoes, cooking, etc. We always sell out. You would be more than welcome to join us for a great time of fun and fellowship! I learned to roll lefse a couple of years ago. I will be making krumkaka for the first time. If I have time I will attempt rosettes also

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Ruth, what a wonderful story. I often lament news that such traditions are disappearing, so I loved hearing that you and your friends have brought back the tradition! What church is it?

      Also, enjoy the cookies. I had a hard time getting rosettes right–they always stuck to the iron–but I think the secret is keeping the iron hot. I made some successfully earlier this fall, and hope I can duplicate the effort!

  4. Marilyn Keefer Says:

    Lefse-making has been passed down to my granddaughter, Holly, who has mastered the art of making this delicacy. She inherited my lefse plate and all the important tools which I purchased from Dregne’s in Westby, Wisconsin!!

  5. Ruth Nelson-Lau Says:

    That is our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Merrill, WI. We are rolling lefse today and tomorrow, making meatballs November 15. There is always next year, also.

  6. Ruth Nelson-Lau Says:

    Another lefse story: the Norske Nook cafe in Osseo, WI serves lefse wraps along with their famous homemade pies.

  7. Sandy Brehl (@SandyBrehl) Says:

    Love this post. When I visited in SW Norway I expected potato lefsa and was informed by friends I stayed with that in their region they prefer “Vestlands Lefsa”, a wheat-based lefsa. Either way, I loved it, and your photos/background are such a good read. Thanks.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      I learned one way ot making lefse years ago, and have only begun to learn all the fine distinctions. Some involve process, such as whether the potatoes should be mashed or riced. Interesting distinction you discovered on your trip. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Elaine Ellen Says:

    My mom learned to make Lefse with her mom. It has always been around for holidays. I myself have never made it. As a kid I didn’t really care for Lefse but now I like it with just butter on it. No one in our family had ever put sugar on it until recently. The kids love it that way!

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