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Traditions of Christmas

By Staff | Dec 18, 2009

Michelle Ackerman, of rural Sibley, displays the tools she uses for making the Norwegian potato treat — lefse.

SIBLEY – Individual people’s Christmas traditions are rooted in their families’ ethnic history.

This week’s farm cooks share seasonal recipes handed down through the generations from their Norwegian, Dutch and German ancestors.


Michelle Ackerman, of rural Sibley, is Norwegian at heart, she said, or at least her grandfather was. Her memories of the lefse her family enjoyed during the holidays inspired her to learn to make it herself.

After purchasing the tools to make the job easier, Ackerman tried her luck at making it each year.

Ed and Jan Harskamp, of rural Sibley with their stoopwafels which their families crave during Christmas.

“I’m always improving my recipe.” she laughs. “There are so many different opinions on how it should be done. This is the recipe I use and find to be most like the lefse my great-aunt Clara used to make.”

The secret to making good lefse, Ackerman said, is in the potatoes used to make it.

“You must use either Burbanks or Russet potatoes,” she said. “My antique potato ricer is also an essential tool.” Other tools include her canvas-covered round board, for rolling the lefse, an electric lefse grill, and a special stick she uses to flip and roll the lefse as it cooks.

There are as many opinions on how it should be made, as there are opinions on how it should be eaten.

Ackerman’s family enjoys it spread with butter, sprinkled with sugar and rolled up. They also prefer it served chilled as to warm off the grill.

Barb Block, of Ocheyedan, above, poses with her pfeffernuesse cookies, by her German feather tree.

Michelle’s favorite lefse

8 cups of riced potatoes (Burbanks or Russets works best)

1/2 cup of whipping cream

1/2 cup of butter

1 tablespoon salt

Ackerman rolls lefse prior to being served.

4 cups of flour

Peel potatoes, cook and drain. Run potatoes through potato ricer once or twice depending on one’s preference.

Add butter, cream and salt. Refrigerate until cool. It can be left overnight.

Mix in flour and roll into balls about the size of a tennis ball or smaller. Keep balls of dough on a plate in the refrigerator. Take out one at a time. Roll out dough on a lightly floured board. Some bakers cover the board with canvas.

Bake on grill at 500 degrees.

Block demonstrates how she cuts the pfeffernuesse. She said she makes the German cookies over a three-day period.


Beat 2 eggs with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Add 1 cup of milk. Sift 1 cup of flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir into egg mixture and beat until smooth, similar to the consistency of heavy cream. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon extract.

Heat 2 1/2 quarts of salad oil in fryer to 400 degrees.

Dip rosette forms into hot oil and drain excess onto paper towels.

Dip heated forms into batter not more than 3/4 the depth of the forms.

Plunge form into hot oil and cook until active bubbling stops.

With fork, ease off forms onto paper towels to drain.

While warm, dip into powered sugar.


Dutch Stoopwafels have been a tradition for the Ed Harskamps family since his parents came to Iowa from Holland. When Ed Harskamp’s mother passed away, he purchased her antique Swoopwafel iron at her estate auction. Determined to continue the tradition, Harskamp, and his wife Jan, perfected the Dutch treat.

“We learned that the cooking process is something we’d rather do in the garage,” Ed Harskamp said. “The iron really smokes and set our smoke detectors off,” he laughed.

Jan Harskamp stated that it’s a two-person job and not something one wants to do alone.

The Harskamps are not the only ones who enjoy a good stoopwafel. Each year, at the Sibley 1st Reformed Church’s harvest auction, the Harskamp’s stoopwafels are a big seller.

Their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews all request the treat each year, they said.

Though most of us don’t own an antique Stoopwafel maker, they can also be made on any modern pizzelle maker.

Ed and Jan’s Stoopwafels

9 cups of flour

2 cups of brown sugar

1 cup butter

1 cup lard

1 egg beaten

3/4 cup cold milk

1/2 package yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients and cut in butter and lard. Combine liquids and egg and add to flour mixture. Roll into walnut-sized balls and let stand at room temperature for a few hours.

While dough balls rest, make filling.


1 pound butter

2 cups white sugar

2 cups dark syrup

3 teaspoons cinnamon

Bring to a rolling boil stirring continuously. Cool.

When dough is ready and filling is cool:

Bake dough balls on hot iron. Remove and slice in half immediately. Lay open and put 1 teaspoon of filling between top and bottom. Cool and freeze to keep.


Ocheyedan native Barb Block has improved her Grandma Ostermann’s German pfeffernuesse recipe.

“Traditional German peppernuts are made for soaking in coffee and eating with a spoon.” She said. “I had always used Grandma’s recipe but when my children were small I found them to be too hard for them to enjoy.”

Barb tweaked her grandmother’s recipe and replaced the dark corn syrup with regular brown sugar. The results were a much softer version of the small cookie.

Friends and family enjoy Block’s version so much she often makes several batches each holiday season.

“I make them in a three-day process.” Block said. “On day 1, I mix and refrigerate. Day 2, I roll into logs and refrigerate again and on day 3, I cut and bake.

Barb’s pfeffernuesse

1 cup of margarine or butter

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Mix well, then add:

3-4 cups of flour

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water

1 teaspoon cream of tarter

1/2 teaspoon anise oil or 1 teaspoon anise flavoring

1/2 teaspoon each of cloves, ginger, cinnamon and allspice.

Combine all ingredients and chill dough. Roll into half-inch logs. Slice into marble-sized balls and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Contact Robyn Kruger by e-mail at rangerob@hickorytech.net.

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