Name: Ellen Geneva JOHNSON
Birth: 14 FEB 1914 in Goodridge, Pennington County, Minnesota
Death: 22 APR 1985 in Thief River Falls, Pennington County, Minnesota
Burial: 26 APR 1985 St. Pauli Cemetery, Thief River Falls, Minnesota
Change Date: 4 OCT 2007
From TRF Times; 3 December 1962: ?St. Hilaire Lefse Plant is Booming Winter Industry?
At the rapid rate of six per minute, lefse are coming off the grills five days a week at the Torkelson and Johnson lefse plant at St. Hilaire. Eleven employees, all from the local area, are producing the flavorful potato products so popular with residents of this country during the winter months and especially the holiday season.
Mrs. Anton Torkelson and Mrs. Norman Johnson [her sister-in-law] began their little enterprise two years ago in the basement of the Torkelson home as a winter project to earn some spending money. The project proved successful, but the state department of health stepped in and informed the industrious partners that use of such facilities for production of a product for public sale to consumers would not be allowed.
Unwilling to give up their winter pasttime, the ladies purchased the former Hartz store building just south of the post office and which had been vacant for several years. They removed a partition, installed storage and sanitary facilities, hooked up to voltage water service, arranged lighting and ventilation, repaired the floor and painted the entire interior of the building. This fall they began their production in the 25 x 50 foot plant.
Equipment used in making lefse is not extensive but is somewhat specialized. A gas-fired cooker is used to cook 100 lbs. of potatoes at a time and these are handpeeled after cooking to eliminate as much moisture as possible. A power grinder is used to grind the potatoes and a commercial bread mixer or large-scale beater is used to mix the lefse dough. Mrs. Johnson does the mixing and cutting of the dough in preparation for the rolling out process.
Five women, using rolling pins of various sizes, roll the dough on an assembly-line basis into thin, circular sheet ready for the grill. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Torkelson, using two gas grills and one electric grill, are in charge of the turning during baking. The grill surface areas permit 12 lefses on the stove at one time.
"We use no special preservative in the lefse," Mrs. Johnson said. "The most important things are to keep the moisture content low in the potatoes and to cool everything thoroughly. LEfse freezes very well and should be at least kept under refrigeration, but we have tested some on our shelf for eight days at 80 degrees without spoilage."
The plant prefers to use Kennebec potatoes because of their low moisture and must have washed potatoes to eliminate washing in the factory. About 700 to 800 pounds of potatoes are used each day as well as more than 100 pounds of flour. AVerage daily production is 60 dozen packages (three lefses per package) but the total has gone as high as 72 dozen. Packages are heat sealed to insure freshness.
This year all lefse made at the plant will be sold to a commercial bakery for distribution in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. Production will be about three times the amount made last year. The plant opened in mid-October and will operate into April. The bakery has also ordered 200 cases of four dozen packages each to be frozen for summer sale.
"The bakery's district field man has told us that they could use twice what we are producing now," Mrs. Johnson added. "We would have to work a double shift to do this and experienced help is hard to find. It is possible that we may go to a double shift in the future if the demand continues and we can secure experienced help. We have a wonderful crew here now. They know their work and aren't afraid to pitch in and help each other."
Proof of the initiative of the partners is a shelf of homemade jams and jellies offered for sale at the plant. "We had a lot of juices and decided to use them last summer," Mrs. Torkelson said. "We have sold some, mostly to people who come to see the plant and notice that we have the jars here."
Workers in the plant appreciate the chance to have employment during the winter. SEveral of them join their husbands in farm field work when the lefse season ends in the spring. In any event, the thriving little industry is a economic boost to the rural community of St. Hilaire. And the product must be good -- even the workers insist on eating lefse for lunch.
Father: Ingebret JOHNSON b: 15 APR 1880 in Stavanger, Norway
Mother: Emma OLSON b: 23 APR 1879 in Minnesota
Anton Severt (Syvert) TORKELSON b: 21 NOV 1907 in Smiley Township, Polk County (now Pennington), Minnesota c: 19 APR 1908 in St. Pauli Church, Rocksbury Township, Minnesota
22 JUN 1935
in Thief River Falls, Minnesota
- Living TORKELSON
- Living TORKELSON
- Living TORKELSON
- Patricia Rae TORKELSON b: 14 OCT 1937 in Smiley Township, Pennington County, Minnesota
- Sheila TORKELSON b: 9 NOV 1938 in Smiley Township, Minnesota
- Sharon TORKELSON b: 9 NOV 1938 in Smiley Township, Minnesota