A group of Norwegians and Norski wannabes gathered at the Prairie Village Museum this past Tuesday to celebrate Syttende Mai, literally 'seventeenth May', Norwegian Constitution Day. The day commemorates the signing of the Norwegian Constitution, marking the date Norway became a nation unto itself.
The Rugby celebration featured tables brightly decorated in red, white and blue, the colors of the Norwegian flag; tours of the newly renovated Norway House at the museum; a display of Norwegian artifacts; lively accordion music; and, the highlight of any Norwegian get-together, coffee and plenty of sweet treats.
The baker of those goodies, Gary Thompson, produced an array of Norwegian delicacies, including lefse, krumkake, sandbakelse, rosettes, fattigman and more.
A Norwegian flag decorates a table of delicacies at the Prairie Village Museum.
Thompson has been baking since he was a small child growing up in Minnewaukan. "When I was kid I watched my great aunt, Gina Anderson, roll out flatbread," he said. Later, his mother taught him how to make krumkake and sandbakelse. Flatbread remains his favorite pastry to make. His version is rolled very thin and becomes crisp when baked, but he acknowledges, "There are lots of ways to make flatbread." About 10 years ago he made lefse for the first time, he said.
All Thompson's sweets are virtual works of art and look impossibly hard to produce, but he says there are no real tricks involved. After his many years of baking, "You can tell how things will turn out," he said. "The stickiness. How it feels. The stirring."
He's become so proficient he sometimes makes lefse by simultaneously rolling it out on two boards and frying it on two grills. "I don't like help with baking," he said, preferring to go it alone. "I do the majority of cooking and baking at our house. My wife is a good cook, too, but I chase her out of the kitchen."
Thompson doesn't consider himself a specialist in strictly Norwegian cooking and baking, but that seems to be a majority of what he does, especially around the holidays. His favorite dish to make is potato klub. "But it must be eaten when it's fresh. It can't sit overnight," he insists. "And I really like to make blod klub," he said, naming another Norwegian dish. "It's mixed the same as potato klub but you add blood. Oh, yah, it's good. It's the best."
Thompson worked 30 years in a barber and beauty shop in Minnewaukan, all while cooking and baking on the side. He then moved to Cavalier and spent five years working in the deli of a convenience store owned by Bjornson Oil before moving to Rugby a little over two years ago. Over time his reputation as a good cook led to many catering jobs, he said, especially for class and all-school reunion banquets. He still takes orders for special events and shares his skills by giving baked goodies to friends and family.