Rolling in the dough at the Minnesota State Fair
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. – A woman walked up to the Jacobs Lefse Bakeri booth at the Minnesota State Fair with a simple question: “How do you get it not to stick?”
Jack Jacobs, who has heard that question thousands of times, was happy to give her the secret: “You are always rolling in flour.” The key to avoiding the woman’s sticky rolling pin situation is to sprinkle flour on lefse dough before rolling it and again about halfway through, Jacobs explained.
He should know. His parents, John and Bernice Jacobs, started their lefse bakery in 1972 when they invented a cloth-covered pastry board that made preparing the Norwegian potato-based flatbread a bit easier; their son got into the business in 1978 and has done it full time since 1982.
The State Fair is one of about 50 events the couple and their employees work a year, and it is a bit of a vacation, at least a vacation for a baker. Bonnie and Jack Jacobs’ alarm goes off at 5 a.m., or maybe 6 a.m., these days and the couple works until 9 p.m. It sounds like a long day to most people, but bakers generally head to work before the sun. Manning their fair booth during the event’s 12-day run means they can sleep in, by their definition of sleeping in at least.
When not on the road, they are in their Osakis bakery and Scandinavian gift shop working even longer days. “Seriously, it is 80, 90, 100 hours every week,” Jacobs said. The couple is on the road a lot. “We’re gone everywhere from May to the end of the year,” he said.
Diane Niederer of Bloomington was glad the couple was at the Minnesota fair. “He looks like a good Norwegian,” said Niederer, a German whose Norwegian friends taught her to like lefse. “It looks awfully good,” she said of the Osakis-made product.
Once the State Fair ends, Bonnie and Jack Jacobs will be home in Osakis. From Wednesday through Friday after the fair ends Tuesday, they return to their bakers’ schedule and begin to work early to build up a lefse inventory for their biggest one-day event of the year, a September 12 date in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The couple and their six to eight part-time employees, mostly retired from other jobs, make up to 1,500 lefse rounds a day.
Throughout the fair, the booth is lined with fair-goers, mostly women, interested in buying lefse ingredients, utensils to make the product and Scandinavian-related goods. And many bought the already-made product to take home.
Jack Jacobs said most people only make lefse once or twice a year. “If you want to get good at it, you have to make it a lot,” he said. He does. Jacobs never has counted, but he figures he may have made hundreds of thousands of lefse rounds, both in the bakery and at events like the State Fair. Often, it is a holiday-only treat, so when people see it during a summer show, they buy some so they can eat the treat without going to the trouble of cooking it.
The couple moved the business to Osakis 10 years ago from its original home in Willmar, where Bernice still lives. They travel Scandinavian-heavy Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, where lefse is more popular than elsewhere in the country.
Taking their business on the road is a highlight for the couple. “We look forward to them,” Bonnie Jacobs said of the shows. “It’s our time away from the shop.” They like the road life so much, her husband added, that they would like to sell the recipe to a big company that could expand lefse production and let the couple specialize in selling on the road.
The two have the labor divided, Bonnie Jacobs said, standing at the cash register. “Jack rolls out the dough, I bring in the dough.” And Jack Jacobs has his Norwegian-Minnesotan boast down pat: “Our lefse is not the only good lefse out there, but it is very good.”