Lefse all year at Granrud's Lefse Shack
Posted on 05 March 2003
Granrud's Lefse Shack a Montana tradition
Story by Kate Bertin
A Scandinavian holiday tradition thrives at Granrud’s Lefse Shack in Opheim, Mont., a Norwegian settlement so far north it’s almost in Canada.
There, Myrt and Evan Granrud and their neighbor Arlene began baking the Norwegian treat lefse. A thin potato bread, it looks vaguely like a tortilla but has a taste all its own. Many non-Norwegians say the lust for lefse is an acquired taste. But, for dyed-in-the wool Scandinavians, the holiday just isn’t complete without lefse on the table.
When the trio started the business, they used only a couple of rolling pins and a lefse griddle. Now, aided by machines Evan invented, the business daily churns out from 300 to more than 2,500 round pieces of lefse and is among the top three largest employers in town. “We may even be the second-largest employer,” says Lefse Shack Manager Shari Hallock.
With 11 full-time employees, the business last year shipped a whopping 38,000 pounds of lefse to fans nationwide.
Making lefse is a long, sometimes tedious process. Myrt, Evan and Arlene would toil for hours each day after their regular work, rolling dough and baking it on a flat griddle in the Granruds’ garage.
They’d repeatedly flip the dough and run a textured rolling pin over it, giving it a canvas-like appearance. At last, the paper-thin round would be ready for baking. Working at full speed, they’d cook as many as 300 rounds a night. But the labor-intensive rolling left the three of them exhausted by evening’s end. Surely, Evan reasoned, there must be a better way to produce lefse. People in the know, however, declared it was impossible to make good lefse with a machine.
Some machine-made lefses are pressed, not rolled, and lack the proper texture. But Evan is a natural-born inventor, and the possibility of building a better lefse-making machine intrigued him. A civil engineer by training, he used his skills to design a lefse machine from scratch.
The first step was to figure out how to roll the rounds mechanically while maintaining the tenderness for which Granrud’s hand-rolled lefse had become famous. He devised a foot-operated contraption that feeds exactly the right amount of dough (for one round?) through a tube. “I call the rolling machines the Norwegian bicycle,” Hallock says. “When Evan showed me the first machines, all I could do was laugh.”
A wire similar to a cheese cutter whisks the dough off the top of the tube. Then, under the watchful eyes of Lefse Shack workers, three platters of dough (OK?) at a time head for the mechanized wooden rolling pin and pass beneath it one after the other.
The roller whips back and forth across the dough, cajoling it into its final shape and producing a constant stream of rounds for the person at the griddle.
This worker snags each round with a traditional wooden lefse turner and eases it onto a hot, ungreased grill. Tiny bubbles appear in the whiteness, hinting at the brown spots forming underneath. After a quick turn, the lefse is ready for cooling and a ride on the long conveyor belt that carries it off for packing and shipping.
The sparkling machines move rhythmically, constantly. The relaxed banter of workers and the wonderful aroma of baking lefse fill the air. Picture Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Imagine Santa’s workshop.
For people of Scandinavian descent, Granrud’s Lefse Shack offers a welcome return to the holiday food of years past – tricky and time-consuming to make but, oh, so important to a sense of tradition. Many Americans grew up baking the traditional Scandinavian holiday foods, but, as life has gotten busier and lifestyles have changed, keeping those traditions alive has become increasingly hard.
“We get comments like ‘It makes Christmas again for me,’” Hallock says. “I think it’s an engrained tradition – a familiar food that people grow up with.”
The Lefse Shack is located one mile west of Opheim at 4886 Montana Highway 24 N. Phone:(406)762-3250. Web site: www.lefseshack.com