October 4, 1997 in Idaho

Lifetime Of Lefse Church Fills Freezer With Traditional Treat

By The Spokesman-Review
 

It’s a cross between a tortilla and a potato pancake and it has fed Finns, nourished Norwegians and satisfied Swedes for centuries.

Lefse, though, is special for many reasons.

“It was our comfort food during Ice Storm,” said Cindy Rudi, who worked elbow to elbow with her mom, Kay Bryan, on a lefse assembly line Friday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Coeur d’Alene. It’s a holiday tradition for many families, and it was waiting in the freezer when the region went dark during last year’s ice storm.

Another part of the tradition is the fellowship around the counter as lefse is prepared.

“It’s great fun,” said Shirley Belstad, the kitchen supply sergeant on this job, her face smudged with flour.

On Friday, ten electric griddles, 950 pounds of potatoes, 250 pounds of flour, almost 20 pounds of butter and 60 quarts of cream combined to produce 3,000 of the traditional treats. They’ll be frozen and sold at the church’s holiday bazaar Nov. 8.

While Mel Knutson and Paul Wheeler boiled and peeled potatoes, 15 women, most old enough to remember World War II, kneaded, rolled and deftly flipped the dough onto griddles using special wooden spatulas.

“It’s a tradition among Scandinavian people,” said organizer Bea Jarstad, whose early memories are of the whole family pitching in to make lefse on a wood cook stove in rural North Dakota. “There’s a lot of people today who don’t want to take the time to make it.”

She moved from counter to counter, overseeing production from raw potatoes to packing the finished product away in the church freezer. She took over organizing duties from Bea Finne, who last year started what is now a tradition for these women, most of whom were born Scandinavian or married into a Scandinavian family.

Most of the women, and a few men recruited to haul and peel potatoes, repeat similar stories of a lifetime with lefse: helping mothers knead the dough and roll it out, stoking stoves with coal or wood to cook the thin cakes, and topping them with butter and sugar, or jam for a quick snack or as an addition to holiday meals.

“I’ve been making it for 60 years,” said Irene Iverson, who moved to Coeur d’Alene in 1936 with her husband Carl. Because it was part of her late husband’s heritage, lefse soon became part of her own.

But it wasn’t just church fund-raising on the cooks’ minds Friday as, one-by-one, they slipped away with a crepe-shaped cake, spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar for a moment of nostalgia in the corner of the church dining hall.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos

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