Wherever Norwegians go, so too will lefse. Legend has it that the traditional flatbread served as a field ration for Vikings over a thousand years ago as they traipsed around Europe in search of new people to trade with and occasionally raid. It only follows that Minnesota and the Midwest, with its vast strategic reserve of Norskies, should be inundated with lefse. And when Norwegians one day follow their calling to take to the stars and explore the cosmos, you can be certain lefse will be the first thing they have for lunch after they plant their flag on each new alien world they’ve discovered.
Bonnie Jacobs of Jacobs Lefse Bakeri grew up baking lefse. (Say that ten times fast.) The recipe had been handed down by her ancestors since their arrival in Minnesota in the 1800s, and not a holiday in her childhood passed by without the three generations of ladies in her family laboring intensely to flatten the lefse dough out just so. Her bakery in Osakis, MN now offers lefse on-site, online, and at the state fair as it has done since Bonnie’s father-in-law carved the store’s first pastry board in 1972. The little bakery regularly cranks out 1,000 14” diameter lefse a day, and can triple that output if an upcoming church dinner or wedding reception demands it.
“Great lefse needs good ingredients, for sure,” said Bonnie. “We get all of our potatoes, flour, butter, sugar, and salt from the best sources. But even with the finest things to make it from, lefse just isn’t lefse without the equipment and the skill to make it just right. We roll every lefse we make by hand, making sure it’s exactly thin and round so it will bake perfectly in the oven and be presentable on the table, too.”
“How you serve lefse is entirely up to you,” Bonnie continued. “The Norwegians are purists, and insist that only butter or lutefisk belongs on it. Swedes, who are more liberal, say that cinnamon and sugar are good additions as well. It’s the greatest controversy of our time. I say that anything can go on lefse, and use it just like bread to make any kind of sandwich you could imagine, like its a Scandinavian tortilla. It’s very versatile.”
Jacobs Lefse Bakeri ships their precious lefse around the country to Midwesterners who’ve strayed so far from home that they’ve found themselves in places so remote that Norwegians never deigned to settle there. Speak of it as an island paradise all you like, but Hawaii would be little more than some pitiful volcanic pustule were it not for Jacobs Lefse Bakeri’s ability to FedEx the goods there. It makes one wonder if pineapple jam has ever found itself spread over the stuff. If it has, then humanity has truly completed our circuit of global conquest.
“I grew up with lefse,” said Bonnie. “Lefse has been all my years. I hear people fearing that lefse won’t be made anymore one day, and as the last of the Jacobs, I’m afraid of that too. I’m not ready to leave yet, but when I am, I hope to find someone just as passionate about lefse as I am. I’d love to keep this little family business going, so we can keep this one important aspect of our heritage alive into the future.”
Jacob’s Lefse Bakeri also sell packs of dry mix for their delicious lefse so you can try your hand at it at home, as well as Swedish coconut cookies, almond cakes, and biscotti. (The Italians somehow snuck their way in.) If you would like to serve your holiday dinners the proper Norwegian way, you can order any of their outstanding baked goods at gotlefse.com. The Vikings will smile down on you from Valhalla if you do.
By David Scheller