- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) - Every year around the holidays, Gerri Thorsgard and her friends meet in Bemidji over 40 pounds of potatoes and a shared mission - lefse.

The tradition started a dozen years ago when Thorsgard realized she had no idea how to make the potato flatbread of her Scandinavian heritage. She talked to her friends and they didn’t know either.

“We always had lefse on the holidays,” she said, “but I didn’t know how to make it. It just showed up like magic.”

But it wasn’t magic. It was Ina, Thorsgard’s mother-in-law and a skilled Scandinavian maker of lefse.

Minnesota Public Radio (https://bit.ly/1U0ewBS ) reports that lefse is a common part of the holiday season for many in northern Minnesota, but it’s not easy to make. Rolling the soft potato dough without tearing it, frying it to perfection on a 500-degree griddle - it all takes years of practice.

The cooks with all the lefse-making knowledge were getting old, Thorsgard said, and few young people seemed ready to carry the mantle. So she asked Ina to teach her and a group of friends the art of the griddle and rolling pin.

“She took it really seriously,” Thorsgard said. “She taught us the right way.”

The friends recently got together at the Bemidji home of Celeste Cermak last week to finish up their last batch before Christmas.

The countertops of Cermak’s kitchen were crowded with cloth-covered rolling boards, rolling pins and griddles as the group set to work.

Their lefse starts with a lot of potatoes. They’re boiled and mashed with butter and cream then chilled overnight. The morning of rolling day the mix is kneaded together with flour. Thorsgard said there are no exact measurements for the flour. It’s done by feel.

“You want it to be somewhere between a bread dough and a pie crust,” she said as she kneaded. “It should be smooth, but dense.”

From there, the dough is formed into racquetball-sized chunks and rolled flat. When asked who the best roller is, everyone pointed at Lynn Boyer.

“She has the lefse muscle,” said Theresa Hendricks. “We don’t know what she does.”

Boyer is the only one of the group capable of rolling lefse into perfect circles. The others usually achieve a shape like Australia. Australia is a fine shape for lefse, but not ideal.

“You just have to roll in all directions,” Boyer said, demonstrating on a fresh piece of dough. “I like it pretty thin.”

She rolled the dough to the thickness of a layer of dimes, then slid a wooden turning stick below and lifted it onto the griddle. In a few seconds steam and bubbles rose.

Once they’re on the griddle Cermak said to look for dark spots through the cooking dough, then flip it. When a few sheets were done, Thorsgard buttered a hot one and rolled it up with cinnamon and sugar. She cut it and passed the pieces around. Production halted for a moment.

“Happiness is hot lefse,” she said.

It’s a good batch. They’re all pleased.

The group’s lefse meetings might have started as a way to preserve their heritage, but now it’s a big part of their lives. Hendricks and Boyer built new houses this year. Both set their counters a few inches higher than code.

“Lefse rolling is back breaking if you have to lean over the roller,” Boyer said. “You want to be upright.”

Hendricks had the electrician wire special high-capacity circuits in her kitchen to handle the power demands of multiple lefse griddles.

Both women also plant large potato gardens every year. They say homegrown spuds make better lefse.

All told the group makes about 150 lefse sheets four times a year. After 12 straight years that’s 7,200 lefse sheets, all eaten by sons and daughters and far-off uncles and aunts at family gatherings.

Thorsgard is proud to have carried the tradition for another generation. One day, when they’re ready, she’ll teach her kids.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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