Submitted by Cordell Haugen
Growing up in a Norwegian immigrant family in Northern Minnesota, lefse was always an important ingredient in our lives. Not the small little lefse rounds that are now available in markets and popular with people of all backgrounds who know good food when they taste it, but the big ones that my grandmother used to make. It was in the early 1940s, during World War II, and visits to my paternal grandmother were major outings. Gasoline and other rationed items were in such short supply, that no one went far, or often. Grandma lived on a small farm about seven miles from the little town where we had lived since my father lost our farm during the Great Depression, before I was born. Grandpa had died in 1903, when my father was only eight years old, and Grandma was really a link with the past. Her English was limited to a few phrases, only those most necessary to the hard life to which she had become accustomed.
The one I remember most was ‘You want lefse?’ Yes, she had that sing-song ‘brogue’ that people make fun of today when they joke about Minnesota Norwegians. But to us it was like the voice of an angel. When she asked that question, she was singing our song. My brother Jim and I were the youngest in the family, and we were always less frightened of our grandma with her stern countenance when she made such an offer. We would nod our reply and wait for a sign. She would almost smile, then point to the bedroom, which opened off of the living room. It was our cue.
We’d run the few steps to her bedroom, lift the spread and from under the old frame bed, we would slide out a huge box that kept the treasure. It was cold in there, far from the only stove in the home, and clearly the best place to store the staple. She didn’t have an ice box. We would open the box and there, between sheets of wax paper, were dozens of huge lefse, folded once into half-rounds each about 20-22 inches across.
From her seat next to the old wood stove, on top of which she baked these gems, came Grandma’s voice again. ‘One,’ she said firmly. ‘One,’ she would repeat in a voice as stern and commanding as her facial expression.
We would each take one, cover the top layer again with the wax paper, and fold closed the dish towel made from a flour sack. We’d close up the box and timidly find our way back to the kitchen, where our mother had butter and sugar ready to finish up our treat.
If we ate the whole thing, Grandma would wait for what seemed forever, then ask ‘You want lefse? And we’d repeat the exercise. Usually, two was all we could eat … two each, that is. But, if we were really hungry and she thought we could handle a third, the exercise was repeated. By then, you could see a smile of pleasure on her face.
She knew the way to our hearts. She never hugged us; never kissed us; never told us that she loved us. But we knew. If she didn’t love us, why would she have treated us to her lefse?