In Search of the Elusive Lefse Stick
It began with an invitation. Katie said, “Come on out Saturday afternoon and help us make lefse.”
“Wonderful,” I answered. “I’ve only done it once before. Years ago, when I was a young woman, my friend Mary took me with her to visit her mother-in-law and we made lefse.”
For a moment I was lost in memory. It was a crisp autumn day in Lambert, a few miles due west of Sidney . Mrs. Lake held court over her immense country kitchen orchestrating a Scandinavian feast. Mary and I were in the center of the fray. Hordes of children and other family members, all of distinctive Viking ancestry, streamed in and out of the kitchen, swiping snacks from the cookie jar or the jumbled shelves of the refrigerator and risking a smack of the stirring spoon from Mrs. Lake, who never ceased laughing while cooking and keeping track of babies.
I remembered huge vats of steaming potatoes. I remembered standing over a giant pottery bowl ricing potatoes as fast as I could. Mary measured the potatoes into another bowl and added the butter, cream, sugar, salt and flour. Mrs. Lake stirred meatballs with one hand, pulled a tray of cookies out of the oven with the other, and still managed to have a pair of hands free to knead the potato dough. I remembered a huge black wood cook-stove, a roaring fire in the firebox, the top surface cleaned and polished to create a lefse grill.
I remembered being handed a warm circle of dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar, my first-ever bite of lefse. I wondered how this experience had escaped me since I was raised in a community largely made up of second and third generation Scandinavians. And I had never tasted lefse. Uff da.
That Saturday afternoon at Katie’s house, the maelstrom was outside with falling snow swirling around the farm buildings unlike the storm of family streaming in and out the doors at Mrs. Lake’s. But the smells in the two kitchens were the same. Katie formed the dough into smooth patties. Her son Trent manned the modern electric lefse grill. And I was given the most honored place, at the rolling pin, sprinkling flour and rolling the patties into approximate rounds. Some looked like amoebas. Trent slid the turning stick beneath the papery thin dough and lifted the dough onto the grill. Katie wrapped the steaming golden circles in towels to cool. I rolled another round. When our labors were over we sat down to enjoy our lefse, lightly buttered and sprinkled with brown sugar and eaten with appropriate sounds of appreciation. Katie sent me home with a bag of my own.
That night I decided I wanted my own lefse-making equipment. I knew I wouldn’t make lefse more than once or twice a year, probably to impress my out-of-state guests. But my kitchen lacked some essential tools. I had the rolling pin, of course, and knew I could make do with my cast iron griddle and there are many methods to smash potatoes, but there is no substitute for an authentic wooden lefse turning stick.
So one Sunday in Havre I began the search. I started at Herberger’s. While their kitchen section was impressive, they lacked a Norwegian Korner. At Northern Home Essentials I bought a cloth rolling pin cover, a helpful item, but no lefse stick. I zoomed through every store that was open. Nada. I went to the K-Mart down the hill, feeling there was only a slight chance of success, but I hoped to find one in the Martha Stewart kitchen section. No luck.
Now the search became a quest. At Ace Hardware in Chinook I found a potato ricer and a round cloth covered pastry board, so I bought them. I went to Chinook Hardware and in an out-of-the-way corner of used and marked-down items, I found a nearly-new lefse grill, still in the box. I dithered over the price, haggled with the proprietor and bought it; a satisfying transaction for both of us. Now I had acquired all the items that I could have done without but I had not located the one essential thing, the lefse turning stick.
Back in Havre another day, I cruised the aisles of the Salvation Army store, often a treasure trove. Walked out empty handed. Then I had an idea—try the pawn shop. So I entered Leon ’s Buy and Sell. Oh, my. Although the store looks small from the front, it is a veritable warehouse inside with shelves and cases crammed with everything. Nearly everything. Everything but my now precious lefse stick.
I know what my lefse stick looks like. It is wooden, probably oak or maple, delicately long and thin. I know the heft of it in my hand. As a last resort I turned to the internet. I found lefse sticks but they are only sold in complete kits. And I already have everything the kits contain—except for the elusive lefse stick.
I’ll continue my quest. I’m hoping to make a trip to see relatives in Indiana next summer. I will detour through North Dakota and Minnesota , exploring every Scandinavian community along the route. I know I am getting closer. I can feel it, ja?