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Treasure Valley Norwegian Americans toil for beloved treat — lefse

Boise's wonderful world of Norwegian lefse

Boiseans of Norwegian descent gather each year to make lefse, the traditional tortilla-like potato flat bread. A food that's deep in the heart of Norwegians, it harkens memories of the old country, family and tradition.
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Boiseans of Norwegian descent gather each year to make lefse, the traditional tortilla-like potato flat bread. A food that's deep in the heart of Norwegians, it harkens memories of the old country, family and tradition.

Lefse isn’t glamorous.

“Honestly, the first time I tried it, I thought it was just OK,” said Eva Hjorth, who grew up in Sweden, but married a Norwegian.

What lefse lacks in glamour, it makes up for in sentimentality. Any Norwegian or Norwegian American wants lefse, especially during the holidays, said Wendy Madsen Drayton, a member of Boise’s Sons of Norway Grondal Lodge, who grew up in Norway.

For Norwegian Americans, lefse represents family, said Hjorth, who’s also a lodge member.

“It’s like turkey and all the fixings for American Thanksgiving. It’s a staple everyone associates with Norway,” she said.

Lodge members donned their white aprons on a recent Saturday and gathered at the King of Glory Lutheran Church on Maple Grove. They spent the day in the church kitchen making piles and piles of lefse to sell at their bazaar on Dec. 3.

The flat potato-based bread — think Norwegian tortilla — is so popular, it sold out in seven minutes at last year’s bazaar, said lodge member Sue Harpold. For this year’s bazaar, they’re thinking of limiting the quantities people can buy. Otherwise, one person might walk out with 15 packets of the bread, she said.

Making lefse is labor intensive, said Hjorth. The night before the Saturday lefse bake, Hjorth and her fellow lodge members were home peeling many pounds of potatoes, cooking them, then ricing them — not once but twice — to transform them into the smoothest potato pudding possible.

The next day, lodge volunteers mixed the potatoes with flour to make the dough, rolling it into logs. From there, other volunteers rolled the dough out on special lefse boards. The idea is to roll it so thin, it’s possible to read the writing on the board through the lefse. There’s an art to this, said Hjorth.

“The dough is sticky and has a tendency to stick and tear.”

If this happens, out the lefse goes. One mark of a good Norwegian bride, she added, was one who could roll the thinnest lefse.

Rolling the lefse is just one step along the way. From there, cooks use a special flat stick, often embellished with rosemaling or traditional Norwegian decorative painting, to pick up the paper-thin lefse and unfold it with painstaking care on a hot griddle. Once the round starts to turn golden brown, out comes the stick again to carry the lefse to its cooling bed under a heavy layer of clean white cloth.

Lodge members will keep their lefse in the deep freeze until the holiday bazaar. The lucky folks who get to take a packet home might enjoy it sweet, with butter, cinnamon and sugar, or savory, eaten with buttery Norwegian cheese.

In any case, it will remind its fans of past generations and keep those ties strong. The first time Bev England made lefse after her mother died, the idea was so intimidating she had to consult with an older Norwegian neighbor.

Even now, years later, she still looks towards the heavens every time she makes lefse and says, “Mom, are you watching?”

Lefse, selling like hotcakes ...

Sons of Norway Grondal Lodge Holiday Bazaar: Bake sale with lefse, krumkake, Scandinavian cookies, raffle, traditional Norwegian crafts including rosemaling, RuneScape jewelry, handmade table linens, aprons, Christmas cards, note cards. Lunch and snacks: Norwegian yellow pea soup and open-faced sandwiches, homemade German sausage, desserts, beverages. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 3, at the King of Glory Lutheran Church, 3430 N. Maple Grove Road, Boise.

Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church annual Holiday Bazaar: Lefse and other Scandinavian delicacies, homemade pies and breads, cookies, canned goods; homemade crafts including quilts; raffles; lunch available. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 12, 3100 S. Five Mile Road, Boise. Information: Cindi Michalski at 208-761-7269.

Search a list of area holiday bazaars in our database at IdahoStatesman.com/bazaars or view the list that was printed in the Sunday, Oct. 9, Statesman.

Lefse

Note: Lefse is cooked on a lefse grill. If you don’t have one, you can try a flat, non-stick pan.

10 pounds potatoes

2 sticks butter

Plenty of flour (see instructions below)

1/2 cup sugar

2 tbsp. salt

Just under 2 cups half-and-half or heavy cream

In a large pot, drop peeled and cut-up potatoes in enough water to cover. Boil until the potatoes are cooked. Pour off the water and return potatoes to burner to cook off excess water in the potatoes. Rice potatoes twice while hot. Potatoes must be well cooked, well-drained and well-mashed, without lumps.

Add the butter, sugar, salt and cream. Beat again until the mixture is light and fluffy. Cover potatoes with tea towel, not plastic wrap or lid, and cool well in refrigerator, preferably over night.

When cooled, mix 1 cups potatoes to 1 cup flour, knead, but not too much. Form into a log about the size of a potato. Keep the dough in the refrigerator and take one log out at a time as you cook it on the griddle. Cut the log into pieces, roll with a covered lefse roller (or any flat roller) flat enough to see through. Cook on lefse grill about 90 seconds to 2 minutes per side. Check the underside of the lefse; you don’t want it to toast — that means it is overcooked. Place lefse between cloths to steam and cool. When cool, fold twice and store in plastic bags. If you’re not using a lefse grill, the temperature should be hot, but not so hot that it toasts the lefse during the 90-second-to-2-minutes per side cooking time.

To learn more about making lefse, visit the Sons of Norway website at sofn.com/norwegian_culture/featured_recipes/lefse. The recipe there is a little different, but the instructions have some good tips.

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