When I-35 was completed through Duluth in 1992, the construction interrupted natural gas lines to First Lutheran Church, which sits along the route of the freeway expansion. It happened at a bad time. The church brotherhood had been planning to cook its lutefisk, and they couldn’t get enough gas to heat the large pots of water needed to boil the fish for the annual feast. It was a major crisis, and the dinner was canceled that year. For four or five years, the Norwegians had to go without their beloved dish!
That’s when the women of the church took over. There were many changes made. Lynn Tryggestad insisted that “you can’t have lutefisk without lefse!” In addition, we decided that the lutefisk dinner should be revived and placed in the season of Advent. Specifically, the first Wednesday in December (Dec. 4 this year) to make it easy to remember and schedule. Dave Rogotzke, a member and commercial salmon fisherman, added his Alaskan salmon to the menu, which includes meatballs as well. In addition, we decided to bake rather than boil the lutefisk and serve it with both white sauce and drawn butter.
Lynn wrote a detailed recipe for the best potato lefse ever. We still use her recipe, which she generously has donated to the cause and I have edited slightly. Today we try to make enough pieces of lefse so that each diner can enjoy one. We recently completed making about 1,400!
We use the recipe here, but start with 10 pounds of potatoes. We cooked up almost 150 pounds of potatoes. I scaled the following recipe down so it won’t scare you.
One thing that is very important about our lefse recipe: You MUST use russet potatoes: The following story actually happened in Duluth: A certain Norwegian woman made lefse every year. One year, forgetting the basic rules, she made her lefse using the potatoes she had in her kitchen. She had trouble getting the rolled-out pieces of dough to cook properly. She was sure that there were power surges in her area causing her problems. So, she called Minnesota Power to check on it. “No” the helpful man answered after checking the electrical system, “there are no power surges in your area — but did you remember to use russet potatoes?” Only in Duluth!
This recipe makes the most delicious lefse, which you can spread with butter and either sprinkle with white or brown sugar or cinnamon sugar and roll up to eat. You can also slice the rolls and serve them as you would cookies. Or, roll the lefse up around a hot dog or sausage or add coleslaw or salad to make a wrap sandwich.
Equipment you need: potato ricer, potato masher, lefse griddle, cloth-covered board for rolling out the dough, a lefse stick, rolling pin and stocking. Most of these items can be found in local hardware stores.
Ingredients for about 24 pieces.
2½ pounds russet potatoes
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup whipping cream
1¼ teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups all purpose flour (very important — the flour is added later)
Peel the potatoes, cover with water, and boil until just tender. Pour while hot into a colander and drain well. Press through ricer. Add the butter, cream, sugar and salt and mash well. Smooth the top. Place onto the refrigerator UNCOVERED for at least 8 hours until well chilled.
Remove from the refrigerator and divide dough into half. Mix in the flour until dough is the consistency of pie pastry. Once you add flour to the potatoes, you are committed to that batch of dough — the longer it is mixed, the softer and stickier the mixture becomes.
Meanwhile, preheat the lefse grill to about 480 degrees.
With an ice cream scoop, measure out balls of dough about the size of an egg and form quickly into a ball. Dust with flour and flatten it out.
Rub flour into the cloth-covered pastry board and rub flour onto a stocking covered rolling pin to keep everything as dry as possible. Roll dough out to make a 10- to 12-inch round. Using a lefse stick, carefully loosen the round of dough and lift it onto the preheated grill. The lefse will begin to bubble. Peek at the grilled side — you’re looking for nice, light brown spots. Slide the stick under and carefully flip it over. If the edges get dry, brown and curl, you are grilling them too long. Stack the grilled rounds one on top of the other and cover with a Terry towel and a sheet of plastic. The towel will absorb some of the moisture, and the plastic will keep the lefse from drying out too much. Fold the lefse into quarters and store in plastic bags. Freeze or refrigerate if you don’t eat them right away. Makes about 24.
We discovered many varieties of flat bread made in Norway and Sweden. Here’s a version that is not nearly the deluxe lefse, but it is quick to make and best eaten hot off the griddle. It makes a great choice for a wrap sandwich.
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
Cook the potatoes until tender and drain. Let stand until cold. Press through a ricer and mix in the salt and flour until dough resembles pastry. Divide into 4 to 6 parts and shape into balls. Roll each ball of dough out to about 10 to 12 inches in diameter as directed in the first recipe. Cook on a preheated dry griddle.
Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.
If you go
What: Lutefisk Salmon Meatball Dinner
When: Today from noon-7 p.m.
Where: First Lutheran Church, 1100 E. Superior St.
Cost: $20 adults, $7 ages 10 and younger
Proceeds benefit local charities.