IOLA — It’s not unusual to see coffee huts, sandwich kiosks or popcorn stands at the side of the road, but the little community of Iola in Waupaca County has a more unusual mobile food stand parked only steps away from the base of the town’s 15-foot-high chain saw carving of Vidar the Viking.
It’s Harold and Sherri Floistad’s lefse shack.
“My grandpa and grandma made lefse, and it’s been a family thing since I was little,” said Sherri, who grew up in the decidedly Norwegian-leaning community.
Lefse is a thin, potato-based Norwegian flatbread that shows up in the Midwest around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. In communities like Iola, it also makes appearances at festivals like the recent Taste of Norway weekend, winter carnivals and community lutefisk and lefse dinners.
Sherri said the hobby gone wild really got started when she was asked to make the lefse for a ski hill fundraiser about 25 years ago. She and Harold eventually added a commercial kitchen to their home and sold lefse to meat markets and a couple of restaurants. For many years, they set up coolers at the side of the road and sold on weekends during the holidays. This fall they have a new “Lefse Shack” built by Sherri’s father and a friend so they can stay out of the weather.
“My dream was to have a business down in Mt. Horeb, because that’s a big Norwegian town too, or a Norwegian wrap shop,” Sherri said. “But my dad always said it was too risky, so we’re doing it like this.”
Harold and Sherri’s customers are other Norwegians who don’t want to go to all the work and mess of making the bread. The recipe is simple — just potatoes, flour, salt and oil.
“All Norwegian food is simple. No taste. Just simple,” Sherri said, laughing.
She uses commercial equipment to peel 30 to 40 pounds of potatoes at a time, cook them and mix with the other ingredients to make her dough.
“You take a glob and you pack it thin, and then you start rolling it with the rolling pin, thinner, thinner, thinner. Then I roll it up on one of these sticks and put it on a rack,” she said, holding up a narrow, flat piece of wood like a long paint stick. “(Harold) grabs it and unrolls it onto the big griddle and bakes it on both sides.”
Finished 30-inch rounds of lefse are packaged by the pound in white paper for sale.
“It’s a lot of work when you don’t have the right equipment,” Sherri said. “There’s flour everywhere when you make it.”
It’s possible to get lefse in a grocery store, but it’s made by machine. Sherri said her success comes from being local.
“I can’t say it’s better, but I think it’s better,” she said. “Everybody says it’s better.”
One Iola couple thought it was so good, they had the Floistads ship a batch to their children in Norway.
Sherri and Harold make about four batches of lefse a week during the season, along with other traditional Norwegian bakery like rosettes, krumkake, and sandbakkels that they give to family and friends and sell from their roadside shack.
Sherri said she wishes her lefse were a year-round product so she could make it a bigger business, but it is indelibly stamped as a holiday treat eaten with butter and sugar, Norwegian meatballs or the equally traditional fish, lutefisk.
“Have you ever eaten lutefisk?” Sherri asked. “You only want to eat that once a year.”
The Floistads will be selling from their shack through Christmas and plan to have lefse at this year’s winter carnival in February.