Friday, December 7, 2007

Local Food Beat...LEFSE!

from Maggie Montgomery

On Tuesday this week (December 4th), I had the honor of serving as a judge for the third annual Lefse Festival Cook-off, a fundraiser for the Beltrami County Historical Society. It was a snowy night, and I was subbing for KAXE’s Member Services Manager, Jennifer Poenix who couldn’t make it because of the bad weather.

Eight teams/individuals competed in the cook-off, held at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Bemidji. There were demonstrations, snacks, extravagant candies and baked goods for sale, pumpkin soup, wild rice, and door prizes. There was a three-piece band that included a tuba and sometimes veered from the Norwegian theme into a distinct oom-pah-pah!

Some competitors dressed in costume. All had long lefse sticks, patterned rolling pins, cloth-covered lefse boards for rolling, and electric lefse griddles. At one point the cooking was temporarily halted when all those griddles heating up at once blew fuses! The competitors brought their dough either completely mixed or else they added the flour at the last moment. One dipped from a big metal bowl with a favorite spoon. Others made patties or loaves.

One of the best things about lefse is that it can be made almost entirely from local ingredients. Most recipes contain russet potatoes, butter, cream, flour and salt. Some people include a little sugar to help the lefse brown.

We four judges got to taste all the lefse. We ate it plain and we ate it slathered with butter and sprinkled with sugar. We didn’t know whose lefse was whose. The tasting was an education, and the more experienced judges passed along some hints as we went along. Some lefse was too dry and floury. Some had a greasy feel in the mouth. Some was thick, and some very thin. Some was browned perfectly and some not enough. The smell of good lefse is heavenly!

Our unanimous choice for the winner was Jason (Jay) Seitz, a plumber from Bemidji. He and his young son wore camouflage and worked from an unassuming deer-stand-turned-lefse-stand at the back of the conference room. Jay also won the people’s choice vote! Jay said he learned the art of lefse making from his mother-in-law. His family is getting together to make their holiday lefse this weekend.

I don’t have Jay’s recipe but I do have two others. The first is from Carol Bauer. The second comes from Anita Norden. It is her mom’s recipe

Carol Bauer’s Lefse
8 cups riced potatoes (5# russets—only use russets)
1 stick butter
1 T salt
½ c. cream
3 c. flour

Cut up and boil the potatoes. Put them through a potato ricer and mash. Add cream, butter and salt. Put them on your porch or another cool place until they get COLD. Then mix in the flour.

Form into “loaves.” To make the loaves, gradually add flour to the potato mixture, then roll and mold with your hands until they form loaves. Carol generally makes 4 loaves.

Use one loaf at a time while you are grilling the lefse—leave the others in the refrigerator, covered.

Slice off a chunk, roll to a thin 8 or 10” round (on a cloth board sprinkled liberally with flour, using a textured lefse rolling pin), pick it up with a lefse stick, and bake it on a hot lefse grill (465-475°), flipping once or twice.

Put it on a plate under a cloth, fold into fourths, serve with butter and sugar or anything you’d like!

Irene Keit’s Lefse
Cook Russet potatoes (10# makes about 4 qt., 35 lefse)
Salt pretty heavy. Don’t let them get too done or they pick up moisture and potatoes become too “wet”. While warm, rice the potatoes, measure them and add:
4 qts. Riced potatoes
¾ c. lard (if using Crisco, add 1c.)
Mix up and cover with a damp dishtowel and allow to cool

When cool: Mix 1qt. Potatoes, ¼ c. whipping cream and 1c. flour
Mix with hands (like meatloaf) and form into small balls
Keep the balls cool and covered with the damp cloth.

There is definitely a trick (or two or three) to this, but here’s one big hint—don’t let the lefse sit on the board too long or it will stick!

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