An old folk tale says the Norse God Odin fed lefse to the souls of his lost warriors in Valhalla to fortify them for battle.
But given the fact that potatoes weren’t introduced to Norway until the mid 1700s, there is probably little truth to the story, according to the author of lefsetime.com.
What is indisputable is Scandinavians’ love for the thin potato flatbread that puts the yule into the yuletide and happiness in the bellies of every Norwegian and Norwegian-wanna-be worldwide.
And lucky for those living in the Black Hills, there are the “Holy Rollers and Flippers” of Faith Lutheran Church — a group of Rapid City ladies who each fall devote eight weeks of Tuesdays and Wednesdays to ricing, mashing, cutting, rolling and flipping enough lefse to feed an army of shoppers at church’s annual fall bazaar. (This year’s bazaar is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18.)
All told, the ladies will go through 400 pounds of potatoes, 120 pounds of flour, 16 pounds of butter and 16 quarts of heavy cream.
The net result — 1,600 lefse, give or take the weekly “mistakes,” which the lefse makers gobble up between batches.
Some of these ladies grew up making lefse beside their mothers and grandmothers.
Others grew up eating it — slathered with REAL butter and sprinkled with sugar.
And some like Marge Marken are relative newbies, learning the lefse roll and and flip technique from their fellow “holy rollers”
“When I started I didn’t know what lefse was,” she said. Now, 10 years later, she is almost a lefse making pro. “I’m a ricer, a masher and a roller … but I’ve never been a flipper.”
Sharon Edwards, the crew chief of this army of mostly senior volunteers, walked us through the process.
Each Tuesday night, a handful of ladies peel 50 pounds of potatoes — half red and half russet — and then boil them.
The cooked potatoes are then riced and mashed with butter, cream, and a bit of sugar and salt.
The mixture is placed in bowls and refrigerated overnight.
About 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, a bigger crew returns to the Faith Lutheran kitchen. The potato mash is mixed with flour and kneaded to the texture of pie dough. The dough is formed into logs, wrapped and wax paper and refrigerated again.
Once ready, the logs are cut into 4 ounce portions and rolled into balls.
The “rollers” equipped with a lefse board and lefse rolling pin and cover, methodically flatten the balls into near perfect 14 inch circles.
“Making them thin enough is the key,” said Corinne Miller, a longtime lefse maker.
Next, the griller, using a special lefse stick, picks up the dough circle and gently lays it on a lefse griddle.
The secret is keeping the griddle hot and the time minimal — about 30 seconds or so per side, said Miller. Perfect lefse is lightly browned in spots. It resembles a tortilla shell, except thinner.
The finished flatbread is then placed on a cloth to cool, and covered to keep moist.
The final step is to fold it into quarters. Bag it and freeze it.
The Holy Rollers sell their lefse for $6 per four pack. In all, they will have 400 packages for sale.
And they predict the lefse will be all gone in a matter of hours — or even a matter of minutes — depending on the bazaar crowd.
Last year they sold out in 30 minutes, Edwards said — noting they had taken pre-orders.
No one really knows when the Faith Lutheran church ladies started making and selling lefse for the holidays.
Anna Mae Paul, jokes she’s “been here since the beginning of time.”
“And they were doing it before me,” Paul said.
Some estimate its been at least 30 years — well before Faith Lutheran added on its Fellowship Hall.
“A lot of the people who started it are not here anymore,” Edwards said.
And like any good tradition it has been handed down for generations. For the past two years, members of the church’s youth group have come in to learn the lefse technique.
“I grew up helping my mom make it on an old wood stove,” Paul said.
But Paul admits she never made lefse on her own, until she joined the Holy Rollers about 17 years ago.
Miller grew up eating lefse at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her grandmother and her mom made it. As a young girl, Miller never got to roll the lefse — her role was to flip — a job she takes on like a pro at the Faith Lutheran lefse making kitchen.
There are lots of recipes for lefse — usually involving the same or similar ingredients, just in different proportions. Purists, like the Holy Rollers, say good lefse is made with heavy cream and real butter — not substitutes like Half and Half or — (gasp!) — margarine.
And admittedly, lefse can be an acquired taste. Edwards said.
“It grows on you,” Edwards said. “Then the more you make it, the more you want it!”
So what is the right way to eat lefse?
Norwegians grew up putting lutefisk on their lefse and rolling it up.
But most people remember — and perhaps prefer — their lefse with butter and sugar. White or brown sugar, is the subject of some debate.
Marken likes her’s with butter and cinnamon sugar.
Lorraine Parker eats her’s with peanut butter — creamy peanut butter.
“My kids like it with Cheez Whiz,” she quietly confided.
Regardless of how you like it, one fact holds true: if you’re hoping to score some at the Nov. 18 bazaar you better come early before there is no more lefse.