Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Lefse Lessons: Trial and Error Error Error

A lot of my Quests for New-ness (my method for keeping life from getting stale) involve cooking. Cooking is so prone to staleness – dinner every night over and over and over again – that it needs dedicated intervention to liven it up make it bearable. So there was the Sauerkraut Saga and the Medieval Mustard Mission. Twice, I discovered parables for living with a brand new pressure cooker – once when I bought it and once when I wrecked it. But even if none of those had worked, there was always Barbara’s Ginger Beer Factory, raspberry liqueur, Bourbon Salmon, and further misadventures with alcohol.

Hmmm, cooking Quests for New-ness always seem to involve a certain amount of calamity. Well, New-ness doesn’t come without risk, but how else would I have learned how to whomp mustard?

So when the Sons of Norway put out a call for help making lefse, how could I resist? It was time to call Connie, and that was before I knew that we’d end up covered in flour. Connie and I are really good at getting dirty.

We entered Viking Hall and right off were greeted by Amanda. The same Amanda who’s taught me watercolors and pencil drawing! She teaches lefse rolling, too!

First we have to prepare round boards for rolling on. We cover them with round, pastry cloth covers and pull them snug. Then we have to sprinkle enough flour to cover up the printing on the cover. Lots of flour. We pull a little sock over the special ridgy rolling pins, too. More flour.

At one end of the kitchen, other volunteers are boiling potatoes, ricing them with flour, and making balls to put in the refrigerator. I take a ball from the plate of finished dough balls, put it on the rolling board, pat it, and push it a couple of rolls. Dough sticks to the rolling pin sock. Not enough flour. Get a new sock. More flour.

You have to roll in alternating directions to make sure your lefse maintains Round. My Round is Round-ish. My Round is basically just not square. Or it’s square with bulges here and there.

When your dough is a super-thin pancake, you stick the long, special turning stick under it. One side of the stick is rounded and one is flat. Flat-side down, you scrape under the dough to release it from the board. Then you lift up the pancake.

Then you pick up the pieces that have broken and fallen. Reject!

You roll out another, super-thin. So thin, there are holes in it. Reject!

You roll out another, but it seems most of your flour has been absorbed. You can’t get the stick underneath. Reject!

When you finally get a pancake to stay on the stick, you walk over to the griddle to lay it down and cook. Not so easy! It’s big and floppy and thin, so it falls on the floor before you can make it to the griddle. Reject!
You try to make one a little sturdier, but it’s too thick. Reject!

You roll out another, but it sticks to the pastry cloth. Reject! More flour. One woman volunteer talks to herself, “Flour is our friend. Flour is our friend.” She’s right! I am now covered in flour, but I’m making round-ish pancakes! I turn to the griddle … and my lefse lands with all its sticky sides sticking to each other. Reject!

Connie decides that productivity demands she give up trying to deal with the griddle. She’ll just roll. But Amanda doesn’t give up on us: we have to hold the long stick very low to the griddle and twist it so that the pancake slowly unwinds itself. It’s a balancing act of original placement on the griddle and unwinding over it. Some make it, some don’t.

Once on the griddle, you use the brush to brush off the excess flour. And because flour is now our friend, there’s a lot. Grill the other side and add your lefse to the mountain of lefses on the counter under the sheet. Other volunteers are brushing off excess flour (Flour is no longer our friend.) and packaging the cooled ones.

So much to learn! I am trying to decide if a valuable learning experience for me is a net-productivity-loss for the Sons of Norway, but by now, I’m churning out lefse. Well, I’m producing lefse. I’m not exactly a lefse factory. They can package my round-ish lefse mixed in with properly-round lefse, so maybe no one will notice.

I am exhausted. I whisper to Connie, “Two hours.” She looks at me in shock, “Two hours MORE?” “No, no!” I say. “We’ve been here two hours. I think we can leave.” Everyone else in the room is still toiling away. They were there yesterday and they’ll come back tomorrow. They tell us to taste one
before we leave. (We kindly pick from the pile of rejects.)

We butter it, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, and roll it up. It’s delicious!

And now I know how to make it! But first I need a nap. 


  1. Ah, lefse is one I would love to do! Love the stuff. So, let's see, I think you made pickles once? Definitely sauerkraut. Can't remember if you've made kimchi. All are foods I really do plan to learn to make once (fill in current delay-tactic here).

    1. Find the Norwegians in your midst; they're all making lefse in the fall!


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