Let’s roll with the Lefse King
A conversation with Gary Legwold, author, teacher, and lefse enthusiast
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
It’s always a good day for lefse! Making lefse is a key part of Norwegian heritage for many Norwegian Americans, my family included. When I told my 6-year-old that I was writing about lefse for this issue, his eyes lit up, and he said, “Lefse is the BEST!”
It was my great honor to speak with Lefse King Gary Legwold to talk about this touchstone of Norwegian-American identity. Based in Minneapolis, Legwold is the author of several books about lefse and lutefisk. He is also a lefse lecturer and instructor, and his website is an excellent resource for lefse enthusiasts—from beginners to experts—across the United States.
I recently spoke with him by phone to learn more about his love of lefse, documenting Norwegian-American food traditions, and the future of lefse.
Christy Olsen Field: First of all, how did you get interested in lefse?
Gary Legwold: It started as an article for the Minnesota Monthly about lefse. My grandmother was the lefse maker of the family, and when she died, I worried that this wonderful tradition would die out in our family. So, I called up my dad and said that I wanted to make lefse and asked for the family recipe and the equipment. My first recipe was terrible. I called it potato jerky. I tried again and again in four different years. It just didn’t work.
My cousin’s wife made good lefse, so I asked her for advice. She gave me her list of ingredients and equipment, and she asked me, “What kind of pastry cloth do you use?” I wasn’t using one! So I got a pastry cloth and a cloth on my rolling pin, and then it was all green lights from there.
For me, it’s a grateful love of lefse. It’s a great food. And it’s a great community of people who care about lefse, their families, their heritage. You try lefse once, and what’s not to like? Lefse is a wonderful ambassador.
COF: How did you become a writer, especially a writer of lefse and lutefisk, and documenting experiences of Norwegian Americans?
GL: Right out of college, I was a teacher, but it wasn’t my thing. I really liked writing, so I went to work for a weekly newspaper and a magazine. Eventually, I went freelance.
There’s a great lefse community out there. Everywhere I go, I meet someone in the lefse community. I watch them make lefse, and we talk shop and equipment. It’s great. I try to learn something new from every lefse maker I meet, even the beginners.
After I wrote The Last Word on Lefse, I wrote The Last Word on Lutefisk. People used to make lutefisk at home. Now some people make it, but it’s the lutefisk suppers that are a big deal. People love to joke about lutefisk, they love to hate it, but they always show up for the lutefisk events.
COF: How has the pandemic affected your lefse classes?
GL: The pandemic has been a mixed blessing in a lot of ways. I used to teach lefse classes at my home in Minneapolis. Then last year, I taught some lefse classes by Zoom, with most people were from out of state, including one class for an extended family spread across the United States, Singapore, and Afghanistan! Even though they weren’t together in person, they were making lefse together. The one thing that was hard for me was I couldn’t feel the dough to make sure it had the right amount of tack to it. Otherwise, it went pretty well, and I’ll consider doing more Zoom classes in the future if people are interested.
COF: Any new projects you’re working on?
GL: I am working on a book called Yes, the World is Flat, and it’s about flatbreads of the world. Across the world, there are so many commonalities with flatbread, families, and tradition. I want to meet with people and make flatbread with them. So that is in the works.
I am also working on Lefse: The Musical. In my second lefse book, I co-wrote a song called “Keep on Rollin’: A Lefse Song for Voice and Piano” with Eric Sherburne. The score can be purchased on my website [including a men’s quartet arrangement]. In our collaboration, I said it would be fun to write Lefse: The Musical. So we work on it every Friday by phone. I don’t know when or where it will work out, but we are working hard on it.
COF: One thing I love about your website is your shop! How do you find items to stock?
GL: I started to make lefse every week, so I looked for ways to make lefse making more enjoyable and efficient. I am always looking for new things to add! I came up with the blue pastry cloth, which makes a big difference in my classes. I also added a countertop protector, since I cracked my own granite countertop. I have compression socks, cozies, and some really special rolling pins and lefse turners made by members of the Minnesota Woodturners Association. In addition to equipment, I have lefse earrings that are made from real lefse, puzzles, and more.
COF: What is the future of lefse, in your opinion?
GL: I wrote Keep on Rolling: Life on the Lefse Trail and Learning to Get A Round 25 years after I wrote The Last Word on Lefse. I can say with confidence that the lefse tradition is in good shape. It has survived. People can buy it from factories, but I like that people want to keep making it at home together.
I hear a lot of older people say, “I hope the younger kids pick it up.” I think they will, but I hope the older people reach out to the younger generations to teach them. It’s our job to reach out and create a lefse fest and invite people to join in this tradition.
I couldn’t agree more. Tusen takk, Gary, for all you do to share the love of lefse with the Norwegian-American community!
To learn more about Gary Legwold, view his class schedule, and to purchase his books and other lefse-related delights, visit www.lefseking.com.
This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.