Norwegian tradition baked into Chatfield church congregation

Members of Chatfield Lutheran Church spent last Wednesday and Thursday making traditional Norwegian Christmas treats for the church's annual bake sale that has been taking place there for at least 47 years.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Members of Chatfield Lutheran Church are maintaining the Norwegian tradition of making rosettes, krumkake, flatbread, sandbakkels, lefse, fattigman and other baked goods while also providing tasty treats for Chatfield area residents each year during its annual Norwegian bake sale.

“We make many, many rounds of lefse, many dozens of the other Norwegian treats,” stated church member Michell Hovelson about the annual Norwegian bake sale that keeps her, Barb Berge and numerous other volunteer church members busy in the church kitchen the week before the third Saturday in November. This year, the sale was Saturday, Nov. 23.

The church, which marked its 75th anniversary this year, is founded on Norwegian heritage, one that will always likely honor that its congregation was originally comprised of immigrants who crossed the Atlantic to settle here in Minnesota, land of plenty of stout cream-producing dairy cows and rich soil for growing potatoes for lefse.  That’s how recipes such as those for lefse – everyone’s favorite multipurpose rolled-up snack, slathered with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar – and sandbakkels, or sugar cookies, and fattigman, or diamond-shaped “poor man’s cookies” fried in oil into puffs instead of cut with the elegant pastry cutter that would be used by affluent Norwegian families, traveled west and have remained a delight for their descendants. 

Hovelson enjoys baking for the sale because it allows her to perpetuate traditions that have withstood time. 

“The recipes are from various members of our church, more than likely handed down from generations,” she said. “They are special because they are our Norwegian heritage.  The recipes are not challenging – they have basic ingredients such as butter, flour and sugar.  I have been part of this tradition for about 10 years, and I definitely don’t like smelling the greasy rosettes, but lefse is my favorite to make. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that Norwegians use lots of butter.” 

Preparations take place just a few days before the sale because some of the treats depend on low indoor humidity or are fragile, making them difficult to bake and stock up weeks ahead of time. The sale is always the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and since the women have been doing it for so many years, it’s pretty much the same year after year. 

“It’s fun working together with our church family, and it takes many hands to make all these things for the bake sale,” Halvorson said. “We will also have various other donated baked goods, but most popular, in my opinion, is lefse.”            

Despite the much-loved morsels that await devoted Norwegian bake sale patrons, Chatfield residents – Norwegians, Swedes and Danes alike — who buy their Christmas sweets from the bake sale are reserved and wait in line, like any good Scandinavian would, instead of eyeing who gets the last package of lefse. 

Hovelson, who reminded anyone who missed this year’s sale to put next year’s on the calendar as the “Saturday before Thanksgiving,” related that there has been a decrease in the number of shoppers in the past few years, but that “most people enjoy our bake sale, and it’s rewarding to be able to keep handing the recipes down through the generations.”