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The love for lefse: Annual cook-off is more than just competition, it’s about family

Madison Jensen, 7, observes her mother, Angie Jensen, preparing dough for the griddle at the Ninth Annual Lefse Festival and Cook-Off in Bemidji on Thursday night. This is Madison’s first year helping the family make lefse. Photo by Chad Sohlman1 / 3
Winners of the Judges’ Choice award Thursday night at the Ningth Annual Lefse Festival and Cook-Off was was “Family Affair.” The Jensen family all worked together to make lefse for the crowd at Evangelical Covenant Church in Bemidj. From left to right: Madison Jensen, 9, mother Angie Jensen, father Jeremy Jensen and Logan Jensen, 10. Photo by Chad Sohlman2 / 3
The winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Ninth Annual Lefse Festival and Cook-Off was 91-year-old Eunice Winger, who said the secret to her lefse is simple — practice. Photo by Chad Sohlman3 / 3

BSU News Reporting Class

BEMIDJI — Making lefse is a tradition, said roller Carla Mendrell.

“It’s almost one of the lost arts that you would hate to see go away,” she said.

Mendrell learned how to make lefse from her cousin, who has a Swedish background. She in turn taught her daughter how to make the potato-based treat.

“Unless you carry on the tradition on with the younger people, it will just die,” she said.

People from all generations gathered to celebrate the traditions of lefse at the Ninth Annual Lefse Festival and Cook Off on Thursday evening at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Bemidji.

The event was hosted by The Beltrami Historical Society and Sunrise Rotary.The Norwegian holiday tradition of making lefse holds deep meaning to the groups that participated in the event.

Lefse roller Chris Hoffman first learned how to make lefse from her mother. As with Mendrell, Hoffman passed on the lefse-making tradition to her two daughters, and is now teaching her 9-year-old granddaughter, Quinn Karger.

Quinn has been a part of flipping lefse since she was a 6-year-old kindergartener. This year marks her first time rolling the lefse at the festival.

Holiday tradition

Lefse, a potato-like flatbread, is a Scandinavian especially popular around the holidays, primarily Thanksgiving and Christmas. With Minnesota having the most Scandinavian Americans in the United States, lefse is quite popular in the state.

Family members often gather to cook lefse as a group effort because it makes the process more enjoyable. “We had nine family members last night come over and we rolled together,” said Mandrell.

Many at Thursday’s event came to to share in the Scandinavian experience. Making lefse has been a holiday tradition for more than 150 years, as newly immigrated Norwegian-Americans would make lefse as well as other foods for Christmas that reminded them of their homelands.

And the purpose of the Lefse Cook-Off really is more than just competition. For many, it is about bringing the family together and the sharing of tradition.

“Every year I make lefse, and now I am passing the tradition down,” Hoffman said. She hopes that her granddaughter will continue this tradition, teaching her own offspring someday. “It’s

all about family.”

Most of the festival attendees had positive things to say about Thursday’s samples, one quipping “it’s the best I’ve had, traditional lefse is my favorite.”

There were samples of lefse with butter, cinnamon sugar, brown sugar, and white sugar.

Two awards were given: Judge’s Choice Award and People’s Choice Award.

The winner for the Judge’s Choice was Family Affair, the team of Jeremy, Angie, Madison and Logan Jensen. The People’s Choice Award went to 91-year-old Eunice Winger, who has been making lefse for about 70 years, she said.

Bemidji State University students Alyssa Muench, Halie Westphal, Christian Verity, Chad Sohlman and Matthew Donoho reported on this story.