Lefse was selling like hotcakes Saturday at the fairgrounds, where the 40th annual Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival was in full swing.
Visitors were queuing up for favorite delicacies like aebleskiver (ball-shaped pancakes) and frikadeller (pork meatballs) at the Danish Society booth and Finnish cardamom braid.
But lefse, a kind of potato crepe, seemed particularly popular. Six-packs of lefse were flying off the counter at the Sons of Norway booth, along with sturgeon and rolle polse (spiced meat sausage) sandwiches. Even bags of lefse scraps were moving briskly.
Helping staff the booth was Nancy Thorsness, a diminutive 86-year-old who became a Scandinavian by marriage. "We think the idea of heritage is good to pass on to our kids," Thorsness explained. Like many others in attendance, Thorsness has been coming to the festival "since it started, almost."
Every year a senior court of high school girls and a junior court of girls in elementary school are named to represent each of the Scandinavian countries, along with an elementary school boy to serve as crown bearer. Reigning over this year's Scandinavian Festival is Emily Ogren, Miss Sweden, who was crowned Miss Scandinavia Friday night. Members of her court are Miss Norway, Janessa Gramson; Miss Finland, Angel Lebo; and Miss Denmark, Jessi Meyer.
Young people are a vital part of the festival and a way to make sure it continues to be popular. Many are members of the Viking (grades 7 to 12) and Nordic (grades 2 through 6) traditional dancing groups. Taught by Bev Hoofnagle and Kevin Ladd, the two groups will dance at Disneyland next month.
Youngsters also keep tradition alive by wearing authentic costumes at the festival. Twelve-year-old Mathew Williamson, called Matti in Finnish, was one of dozens, even hundreds of children wearing traditional Scandinavian outfits. A student at Hilda Lahti Elementary School in Knappa, Mathew was dressed in an authentic reddish-orange striped Finnish vest made of imported fabric and decorated with 12 small brass buttons.
"He already had two bowls of rice pudding," said his mother, Heli Williamson, also wearing a traditional Finnish ensemble, including a shawl and blue skirt, as Mathew proudly displayed the two traditional knives that he had in his belt and a badge declaring he had been the crown bearer for Miss Scandinavia in 2005.
Warrenton resident Jerry Henry has been coming to the festival "forever. I have a slew of buttons," she said. The round metal buttons, a different color every year, function as tickets to get in and souvenirs to collect. Henry, of Danish descent, said she likes the dancing, the costumes and the beautiful handwork. And she's a big fan of the rice pudding with fruit sauce.
This was Henry's friend Laurel Nichols' first trip to the festival since it moved to the fairgrounds from Astoria High School some years ago. She was looking forward to the pea soup and rye bread lunch being served in the exhibition hall by the Swedish Vasa Lodge.
The two Warrenton women were among 5,000 to 6,000 people expected to come from Astoria, Portland and all over the Northwest for the three days of music, dancing, entertainment, raffles, craft booths, dancing around the maypole and Scandinavian food.
"My food vendors do the best. We have a lot of food here," said Saara Matthews, chairwoman in charge of organizing the booths and vendors. She said 54 vendors were displaying their wares this year. Matthews, clad in bright traditional garb, was manning the official Scandinavian Festival booth Saturday, giving out information and selling sweatshirts and T-shirts. Proceeds from shirt sales and entry-fees for the Sunday morning Troll Run/Walk go to the Scandinavian Festival Association's college scholarship fund, open to students at all local high schools.
As a kindergartner, Matthews was Junior Miss Finland. She has been attending the festival all her life. Her sister, Katrina Ivanoff, is festival co-chairwoman (along with Loran Mathews, who is not related to Saara).
Now the next generation is getting involved in the festival, said Saara Matthews, who has sons ages 2, 5 and 7. "They look forward to it every year. It's neat that they like it, too," she said.