At Bernt Balchen Lodge, people find a taste of home

At Sons of Norway, lefse is a group activity. The lodge typically hosts big lefse-making sessions in September, October and November. During this time, groups bring in friends and family to rice potatoes, roll dough, and bake hundreds of pounds of lefse.

For many Scandinavian descendants, these sessions are a connection to their heritage. Christie Ericson, the Cultural Director of the Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, experienced this firsthand during a visit to the Viking Hall in 2009.

“While I’ve always known about my Norwegian heritage, we didn’t really follow many traditional Norwegian-American customs while I was growing up in Alaska,” Ericson said.

Lefse, a potato flatbread from Scandinavia, is a cultural staple. The local Sons of Norway lodge hosts three yearly classes for those interested in learning the recipe. Photo credit: Sons of Norway

The potato-based flatbread known as lefse requires the chef to peel, boil, and rice large quantities of potatoes before mixing them with flour and butter to create the dough. The dough is divided into tiny balls that are rolled out to be less than 1/8 of an inch thick, quickly cooked on a griddle.

Ericson said the process can be difficult but is easier in groups.

“A long, thin, wooden turning stick is used to transfer the lefse from the rolling board to the griddle and to turn it,” Ericson said. “The handles of these sticks are often painted with traditional Norwegian motifs. The trick is to roll the lefse as thin as possible and then pick it up and transfer it to the griddle without tearing it.”

After that, any intact lefse is ready to be rolled with its desired complementary ingredients. Ericson added that when large quantities are being made, the process can take up to three full days of labor.

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Terje “Ted” Birkedal served as the president of the Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage until December 2017, when he retired. He was born in the southwest coast of Norway but spent most of his life in the United States.

“I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like lefse. Everyone eats it in Norway. Mexicans have tortillas, Norwegians have lefse,” Birkedal said.

At the end of these sessions, the finished product is packaged and sold at the Viking Hall Scandinavian Bazaar in October. According to Birkedal, the Hall sells out every year.

For a quick lefse fix, there are two coffee stands in town that sell homemade rolls of it, both operated by Rush Espresso. It can also be found prepackaged in some supermarkets around Anchorage. Birkedal warns that these are cheap imitations of the homemade version.

For the truly brave and hungry, there is always the option of putting in the grunt work in their home kitchen.

Those interested in Scandinavian culture can sign up to make lefse during any of the three yearly sessions in September, October and November by calling the lodge at 907-349-1613.