Duluth cooking class learns from ‘lefse lady’ of NorwayIf you think potatoes when you hear lefse, you’re not thinking of Norwegian lefse.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
If you think potatoes when you hear lefse, you’re not thinking of Norwegian lefse.
“People in Minnesota think that you have to use potatoes to make lefse,” said Kris Eide, as she opened a “How to Cook Norwegian” class at her home on the east side of Duluth on Saturday afternoon. “Potatoes were not an ingredient in lefse from the beginning. … When we think of lefse in Norway, we don’t think of potato lefse.”
Nine women seated in Eide’s living room listened attentively, checking handouts attached to clipboards. Ten had signed up for the three-hour class; one was out with an injury. It was the fourth lefse class she has offered this week, each with 10 students. Previous classes, all of which combine Norwegian culture and language with cooking, were on fishcakes, Norwegian potato dumplings and Norwegian meatballs.
Eide, whose family moved to the U.S. from Norway when she was 7, said she has no difficulty filling the classes. The lefse class was open only to people who had taken at least one of the previous classes.
Making lefse is tricky, Eide told her students. “My first lefse looked like a map of Norway with a few extra legs,” she said.
So she brought in a pro to help with the class: Ragna Rykka of Hardanger, Norway, whose lefse business was purchased by one of Norway’s top food companies, and who happens to be the daughter of Eide’s cousin.
“Most women in Norway don’t make lefse,” Eide said. “Every community in Norway used to have a lefse lady, a bakstekona. … I can remember as a little child going with my mom to the lefse lady, and the lefse would be stacked this high.”
She lifted her hands far over her head.
Eide told her class a little about Hardanger, famed not only for its lefse, but for its fjords, for the Hardanger fiddle and for the Hardanger version of the bunad, the exquisite traditional costume.
But it was time to get started.
“Ragna came all the way from Norway with her own rolling pin,” Eide said. “We have the doors closed to the dining room because the flour is going to fly.”
Jan Carey of Hibbing walked eagerly toward the kitchen.
“Now the fun begins,” she said.
Rykka took over in the kitchen, quickly mixing buttermilk, an egg, baking soda and hornsalt, a spice with a strong ammonia-like odor. Then she added margarine, sugar and Norwegian light sirup. (American maple syrup isn’t an acceptable substitute, Eide said.) Finally, she gradually added flour, and soon had a large lump of dough.
“Like this you roll it around,” said Rykka, who speaks in thickly accented but easily understandable English. She moved the large, ridged rolling pin from side to side to “ohs” and “ahs” from the students. Her movements were vigorous and strong.
“When I was doing this every day, I had arms like this,” Rykka said, indicating Popeye-like biceps with her hand.
Expertly gathering the lefse with a long, thin lefse stick, she placed it on a griddle, quickly frying it on both sides.
Then it was the students’ turn to try, with Rykka and Eide coaching at three stations, each with a griddle.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s not so round because no one will see it,” Rykka told one of the students. “But you have to be careful of the thickness.”
“I have holes, Ragna, I have holes,” Carey said, as Rykka came to assist.
When the lefse was done, the women met back in the kitchen, and Rykka made a couple of spreads. The ingredients included “Hapa,” which Eide said is Norwegian for “have it on. So you have it on things.”
They “reconstituted” the lefse by running lukewarm water over it and placing the thin, brown-speckled slices between towels. The brittle lefse slices were transformed to soft and yummy. “That is amazing,” said Julie McCormick of North Star Township.
Then the best part: samples.
“It’s better than potato lefse?” Rykka asked, to apparent unanimous agreement. “And you made it.”