Eating with the Ancestors

Submitted by Marcy-Jean Mattson
June 28, 2012

I recently visited some very old relatives. Although they have been dead for many years, we communed for over an hour making a recipe of lefse, the traditional Norwegian potato flat bread. Although lefse was traditionally a daily bread, our family now sees it only at the Thanksgiving table.

I still remember being in Grandma’s basement kitchen- standing next to the old gas stove while Grandma Julia taught my younger cousin Jill and me to bake the sheets of lefse. Julia rolled the dough paper-thin, then transferred the round to the griddle on a long, thin wooden stick using a practiced hand motion that rolled the sheet across the grill. Jill and I watched big bubbles develop as the round started to cook. When the first side was browned, we would slide the wooden stick under the dough and flip it- imitating Grandma’s hand movements. I remember the silky feel of the dough as I moved it on the grill and the smell of cooked flour.

Jill and I spent lots of time “helping” Grandma. I always figured we were pulled in to work because she wanted help and didn’t understand the rules about child labor. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that cooking with two little girls was not the most efficient use of her time and very out of character for the impatient Julia. I remember the conversations as she told us about learning to make lefse from Jenny, her Mom, who had emigrated from Norway as a child. Grandma, in her way, was trying to pass the tradition to us.

My Dad, brother and I tried making lefse after Grandma died and the results were utter failures. The dough was too sticky and would not roll properly – the dough absorbed too much flour. We hadn’t a clue how the dough should feel. The resulting rounds were as crisp as potato chips, not soft and pliant like Grandma’s. Grandma Julia, like the women before her, didn’t measure ingredients – she added flour to the mashed potatoes until the dough “felt” right. My cousin and I helped Grandma cook the lefse, but only Grandma knew the secret mixing the dough.

Several years ago, I heard a food scientist on National Public Radio explain that the starch in potatoes is best worked very cold. I made mashed potatoes that night and secretly made lefse the next night. It worked! The dough was light and pliable and rolled beautifully. I asked Dad if Grandma used cold potatoes and he said she had – he had known the secret all along, but hadn’t realized it. Best of all, when Dad tasted a sample, he pronounced it almost as good as Julia’s. The ultimate compliment.

Traditions are the glue that keep families together- and most of them involve food! Garrison Keillor says you cook with the ancestors and eat for the ancestors. We eat the peasant food, the food of survival that brought us this far. Do you have memories of a food that your Grandma or Auntie made, but don’t have a recipe? It is worth the time and effort to try and recreate the taste the tradition to pass on to your family.

 

She Did What With Her Lefse?

Our granddaughter was sitting in her highchair and my wife put some lefse on her tray. We looked over and she was using it to wipe her face with, she thought it was a napkin! This has been good for a laugh many times over the years.

Roman and Eloise Pass

The Love of Lefse Extends Through Every Generation

Coming from a half Swedish half Norwegian family, my dad family tradition of lutefisk and lefse extended into his own family. My mom, took it upon herself to learn to cook many of the Christmas dishes that my dad grew up on.

The first time she tried to make lefse, my dad told her to “add enough flour to form a strong dough”. Well those that make lefse know that this makes a very tough lefse. However after years of making it, my mom every Christmas still makes a very large batch to freeze for use in the holidays.

Growing up, I was in charge of cooking the lefse on a pan that my dad made. I could just keep up with my mom’s rolling, and of course always got to eat the first pieces. It was hard to keep my brother away……he was a lefse thief. We would think that there was lefse in the freezer when company came over, only to find that someone, had eaten many of the packages. To this day I still have to make sure that I get my share, okay I do make my own too, from my mom at Christmas!

The only person in my family to dislike lefse, is my husband who hates potatoes. (what’s wrong with him?) Though he has eaten it with strawberry jam…..

The love of lefse extends through every generation……I made the mistake of letting my children try it. They can eat their share, will pack it in their lunches for school, and still complain that I ate it all (of course I did). It is one of the few traditional foods that still gets made every year. (Lutefisk is banned in my house) Now that my daughter is old enough to cook, I guess I will have to start making other treats.

Kylla

Grandma’s Norwegian Recipes

My Great Grandma would make lefse often. We would all sit around her table and help. I sure miss her and all her Norwegian recipes.

My Lefse Story

Submitted by Peyton Griffin

My Lefse Story

My mother-in-law is Norwegian and Swedish and she introduced us to lefse at her Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes Minnesota. Every July her church has a lefse sale for Pequot Lakes’ Bean Hole Days, during which the town celebrates it’s heritage by burying beans in a large dutch oven named “Big Bertha” and cooking them overnight on the town green (there are actually 5 dutch ovens now that it’s become so popular). I think my husband, children, and I are the most enthusiastic lefse customers every July.

When I asked my son last Nov. what kind of cake he wanted me to make for his birthday, he said he wanted lefse! I had the Our Savior Lutheran church lefse recipe, but it all seemed a little overwhelming to this Irish-German-Welsh-English American gal! Fortunately, I found Lefsetime.com and their video made lefse-making alot less intimidating. I also wanted a griddle and lefse stick, which I was able to buy from their website.

I’m happy to say that my first attempt was successful — only one lefse fell apart! — and I’ve made lefse several times since then. The kids thought it was so amusing watching me learn how to make lefse that they made a video of the whole process. My husband said that the church ladies seemed like a well-oiled machine compared to me — and not nearly as hilarious.

Oh well, even if I’m a little more rambunctious and my lefse aren’t quite so perfect looking, they taste pretty darn good!

Lefse Makes Me Think of Cousins and Christmas Fun

Out on the farm for Christmas, my Polish relatives made awesome treats and foods, full of sugar and sweetness.

The freezer was full and the old wood stove worked hard.

Now in town for Christmas, my Norwegian relatives brought lutefisk and lefse. I was a sad kid, yuck.

So we all tasted the lutefisk, oh my that was bad. Now it’s time for lefse, I am nervous.

My relatives all showed us kids how to butter the lefse and then sprinkle with brown sugar. Wow, that was yummy, and the memory makes me think of cousins and Christmas fun.

Peace, Kris

PS: my spell check did not know the word “lefse”