Dakota Datebook

Local Lefse Maker

Monday, September 6, 2010

 

A press release issued on this date in 2005 announced the release of Thor’s Favorites. Created by Liz Gjellstad, the DVD took an in-depth look at potato lefse, the traditional Norwegian dish popular to most North Dakota dinner tables. Lefse, a thin bread made from potatoes, is said to have been created by the Norse god Odin. Norwegian folk-tales claim that Odin had it served to the slain Viking warriors of Valhalla as a “way to fortify them for their final battle.” This is not likely, however, given that the potato did not reach Norway until the mid 18th century! Whatever the circumstances of its creation, there is little doubt that it traveled to the United States with early Norwegian immigrants.

Gjellstad began making lefse in her teens. A New Rockford native, she pursued a career in teaching at Minot State University. In Minot, she noticed a demand for lefse. She taught lefse-making classes in area schools, and wondered about starting a business. In 1998, she opened a lefse booth at the Norsk Hostfest; it was so successful that she decided to open Thor’s Ethnic Foods, naming the business after her grandfather, Thor Loka, who was born in 1890 in Haegebostad, Norway, and immigrated to North Dakota at the age of seventeen.

Gjellstad began marketing the lefse in local Miracle Mart stores. By 2002, the business was already threatening to outgrow the original building. Busiest during the winter holidays, Thor’s also prepared lefse for weddings, anniversaries, and Sons of Norway events. After seven years in business, Gjellstad decided to create an instructional DVD to teach others to make her famous lefse. She teamed up with the Gourmet Chef store in Minot and her daughter, a professor of Scandinavian Studies, to create the DVD. Although focused on lefse, the DVD explores the history, culture, and chemistry behind Scandinavian cuisine. For Gjellstad and her family, “…lefse is more than just something to do in the kitchen…[but] also means family and tradition.” After completing a culinary-artist-in-residence program in Anchorage, Alaska, and becoming a leading supplier of lefse to North Dakota retailers, full-blooded Norwegian Liz Gjellstad may accurately be portrayed as a true authority when it comes to this delicious Norwegian fare.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

Sources:
Minot Daily News. Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2005. “Old Family Recipe Made Simple,” by Cleo Cantlon.
Minot Daily News. Sunday, Sept. 29, 2002. “Area Woman Creates Lefse Business,” by Cleo Cantlon.
“Lefse Anyone? North Dakota Woman Creates Fascinating Look at Lefse with an Instructional DVD.” Press Release, September 6, 2005: Minot Media Firm, Communication Corps, Inc.
http://www.thorsfavorites.com/about
http://www.lefsetime.com/all_about_lefse/lefse_history.php

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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