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Holidays mean lefse, as Sons of Norway members make delicacy each year

Kara Helgeson, left, watches as Lois Knudson, master lefse maker, places a sheet of the potato-based flatbread on the grill Saturday at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Jamestown. Both are members of Sons of Norway in Jamestown which makes lefse each year as an annual holiday fundraiser. (John M. Steiner / The Sun)1 / 4
Corrine Zabel rolls out a piece of lefse Saturday as Linda Finck grills a sheet of lefse in the background. John Steiner/The Sun2 / 4
Lefse starts out as a ball of potato, flour and other ingredients before being rolled flat and round. John M. Steiner / The Sun3 / 4
Sheets of lefse are folded and placed in stacks of three to cool before being packaged. John M. Steiner / The Sun4 / 4

What's made of potatoes and can be eaten with butter, sugar, brown sugar, jam, salsa or even -- by the brave -- lutefisk?

Making lefse was the goal of the 15 members of the Sons of Norway Wergeland Lodge who gathered in the Immanuel Lutheran Church kitchen Saturday, preparing the Norwegian delicacy for a bake sale fundraiser later this month.

"I love lefse. I've eaten lefse my entire life. It's kind of nice to see how to make it," said Kara Helgeson of Jamestown as she watched a lefse round sizzle on the griddle Saturday afternoon.

Helgeson, who is one-quarter Norwegian, had never made lefse before. As a novice, she was given a lefse stick -- a 3-foot long, flattened wooden stick -- and told to flip the lefse on the griddle when it began to develop brown spots.

Making lefse is a long process that requires some specialized tools and quite a bit of practice. According to the lefse experts at Immanuel Saturday, it also requires at least two people.

The ingredients are simple -- potatoes, peeled and riced, flour, butter, cream and a dash of salt and sugar. The group purchased most of its supplies, but also received a donation of 100 pounds of white potatoes from Cavendish.

As it turned out, the potatoes were wetter than usual this year, prompting the lefse-makers to leave them out a while to air-dry.

To make the lefse, all the ingredients are combined and then rolled into 2-inch-diameter balls.

Then the most experienced lefse-makers roll them out on a pastry board, using special grooved rolling pins covered with a cloth sleeve, which absorbs some of the moisture and helps keep the lefse from sticking.

Getting the lefse to come out round instead of square or some other odd shape is probably the most difficult part of the process, the lefse experts at Immanuel agreed.

"I love making lefse. I've made lefse since I was 7 years old," said Karen Freeman of Jamestown. "I like rolling it really, really thin."

Just like Helgeson, Freeman started out her lefse-making career as a lefse-flipper, and only later became a lefse-roller.

When the rolling process is done, and the lefse the appropriate thickness -- similar to that of a tortilla -- the lefse can be removed from the pastry board with a lefse stick and dropped onto the griddle. When the little brown specks start to show up on the lefse, it is flipped, always using a stick.

"You have to have a stick. You can't do it with a pancake turner, it's not good," said Lois Knudson of Jamestown.

After both sides are cooked, the lefse is picked up, again via lefse stick, and put into a towel to keep it moist. Later it's pulled out, folded and put under a sheet in a cold room, before it can be packed in a bag of three to four pieces of lefse, which will sell for $5 at the bake sale.

"The lefse will be a little more moist this year. We're trying to control that," Knudson said, noting that if it became too moist it would stick together.

People's taste in lefse varies quite a bit, Knudson said. Some people like it thick, but the Sons of Norway found it sells better when it's very thin.

People also eat it in all sorts of different ways. Some prefer lefse with just a bit of butter. Others sprinkle sugar or brown sugar over the butter, and some people prefer to dab a bit of jam over their lefse.

"I like a little bit of cranberry on mine," Knudson said.

"I make it crisp and eat it with salsa," said Phyllis Ibes, who tosses the lefse into a toaster oven to give it a chip-like crunch.

As a child, Ibes attended country school, and whenever she could, traded her sandwiches for lefse at lunch.

The Norwegian treat isn't just for Norwegians, either. Most of the lefse-lovers at the church Saturday weren't pure Norwegian, and people from every nationality join the club or just buy lefse at the bake sale.

"I love being around Norwegians!" said Deb Gletne of Jamestown, who has Norwegian and Swedish heritage. "It's fun. It's great fun."

Lefse, and many other traditional Scandinavian goodies -- including Julekake, almond cake, krumkake, rosettes, fattiman and kringle -- will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 19 at Buffalo Mall.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453

or by email at klucin@