Honoring the tradition of a locally-famed Norwegian flatbread
Written By Kathy Sell | Photographs courtesy of Lokstad Products
For many Minnesotan families of Scandinavian descent, the holiday feast wouldn’t be complete without lefse—and the traditional accompaniments of butter and sugar.
Whether it’s a church fundraiser or a family gathering, honoring the history of this Norwegian flatbread is reminiscent of large family holiday gatherings.
When Norwegian immigrants made the long boat trek to America, they often packed lefse for their journey. Today, lefse can often be found on Norwegian-American families’ holiday tables, likely made during a family gathering with multiple lefse grills going to speed up the tedious process.
For one northern Minnesota company, the tradition goes beyond the lefse itself.
In 1950, John E. Lokstad, a machinist for the Navy, used parts from a 1932 Ford, a vacuum cleaner motor, a Studebaker, and a phonograph to build a machine that produced rolling pins. The company, Lokstad Products, sold rolling pins throughout the United States, and in other countries including Canada and Puerto Rico.
After John’s passing in 1993, Lokstad Products continued to operate under family ownership in Newfolden, Minnesota, with John’s nephew taking the reins.
Today, that legacy continues in Jenkins, Minnesota, and is operated by John E. Lokstad’s grandniece, Dr. Sara Lokstad, and her husband, Mike Baumann.
Lefse is not meant to be mass-produced, and therefore, neither are the rolling pins created by the Lokstad family. Each piece is handcrafted with much detail throughout the process. It starts with sourcing the finest sugar maple wood available.
After receiving the wood, the sugar maple is cut down to the proper length of their rolling pins. After that, the pin is placed on one of the handmade turning lathes, where the pin is either kept smooth or has grooves added. It’s then brought to a special drill press that finishes the pin’s ends where the handles attach. From there, it goes to one of two places: the sanding lathe or the cross cut machine.
The rolling pins are not complete until the signature shiny red handles, custom cut from birch and individually sanded, are pressed on. The handles are held in place with a maple pin that is over 4 inches long and custom cut. This pin is pressed into place by a two-ton custom press. Only then are they ready to be wrapped for delivery.
Lokstad Products manufacture four types of pins:
- Smooth: basic all-purpose rolling pin
- Grooved: all-purpose pin specific for cookies, pastries,
and, of course, lefse
- Cross Cut: typically used for flatbreads or lefse
- Hard Tack: made for hardtack (a biscuit) or other thin breads and flatbreads
Just as the tradition of making lefse is a family legacy, so are the rolling pins. “We have one user who shared she rolls out over 1,000 Moravian cookies each year with her daughter,” Baumann said. “We have another user who commented that she’d had her pin for fifty-one years, and it still works great!”
John’s former customers share stories of visiting the original workshop, where a guestbook is filled with dated entries recording lefse-making parties.
“These stories are special to us as it reminds us how many people John touched,” Baumann said. “While doing so, he helped to create and continue to create so many family memories.”
Lokstad Products pins all come with a lifetime guarantee, offering the same service and guarantee that John gave his customers while he was alive. Over time, they plan to have people visit and tour the shop as John did years ago, offering guests both lefse and baked goods.
Operating a business that uses custom machinery is not easy, but the end product is worth the hard work. “We have our challenges as these machines are handmade, so there are no handbooks or manuals,” Baumann said. “We want to be true to his workmanship and continue the attention to detail that he started.”
Recipe for: Lefse
- 6 cups mashed potatoes,
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 1 T sugar
- ½ cup butter or margarine
- 1/3 cup cream or evaporated milk
- 1 ½ cup flour
- Mix the mashed potatoes, salt, sugar, butter, and cream.
- Chill thoroughly.
- Add the flour and make balls of dough. 4. Roll out thin onto a cloth-covered board.