To Viola Ouren
By Dallas Ouren
We sat amazed as Mother worked the dough.
Could her palms sense when it became too warm?
Within those hands a shape began to grow.
Rolled out, it moved towards its proper form.
She sprinkled flour as she rolled them out.
The rolling pin moved lightly in her hands.
She turned each lefse over and about,
As swirling worlds take shape when God commands.
First rolled up on a stick, and then unrolled;
The cookstove added age-spots to each side.
Once done, they were removed for us to fold;
A simple task that we performed with pride.
Each bite one takes can recreate this mood;
What we call "lefse" is not merely food.
This poem appeared in the February, 1989 issue of the Sons of Norway Viking.
Welcome to the final day of Christmas Week. This event is hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Susan of The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen. We hope to inspire you to break out those holiday sprinkles and get your bake on!
I'm sharing my mother's lefse recipe today because, more than any other food, lefse represents Norwegian Christmas to me. I want to leave a record of this recipe for my children in the technology available to me today.
If you know lefse, then you probably get it. Unlike other traditional Norwegian foods, [cough lutefisk cough] lefse doesn't seem to divide people. It is universally loved. Who doesn't like a tender flat potato bread, spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar? For me, only dark brown sugar will do but I'll bend enough to add a shaker of cinnamon sugar to my Christmas Eve smorgasbord for those
The reason that I'm sharing my mom's lefse recipe and not just pointing you to Alanna's cousin LeAnne's excellent video tutorial (found here) is simple. My mom's method is different than what LeAnne does, and I want to be authentic to my mom's recipe.
It's a funny thing, the concept of authenticity. What makes a recipe authentic? Is it the way you or yours learned it or the way the most popular chef of the time chose to make it? In a FB food blogger group we recently had a lively discussion about authenticity and tradition as they relate to recipes. [Can a carbonara sauce be a carbonara sauce if you choose to use pig belly not pig cheek? I'm not going to touch that debate, but I'll happily eat a plate of whichever meat is used in the carbonara you prepare for me.]
My mother learned this method when she was a county extension agent in Minnesota in the 1950s. Her office was in the Pennington county courthouse, and she had a demo kitchen complete with multiple ovens and an overhead mirror. One of her functions was to prep the 4H kids who were doing demos at the fair. [The county fair was very early in the season before the produce was ripe for showing/preserving, so they did all sorts of demos instead.]
Early one summer Doris Belanger won a blue ribbon making lefse at the county fair. That meant she'd be taking her lefse demo to the state fair at the end of the summer. In order to help polish her demo, my mom first had to learn from Doris how to make lefse. [I guess this isn't even my mom's lefse method, it's at least Doris's mom's mom's method.] Doris taught my mom, and all summer long the 4H leader and mom met with Doris while she practiced. They gave tips on how to improve her presentation. At the state fair, Doris won a blue ribbon. She was comfortable and relaxed while making lefse, and her picture even appeared in the Twin Cities paper! In thanks, Doris's grandpa made my mom a grooved rolling pin on his lathe, and Doris's mom took a slat from an apple crate and carved a lefse turning stick which we call a spuda [spoo-duh--I don't know how to spell this].
See one, do one, teach one. My mom demonstrated this method during Scandinavian Week at the 1976 Bicentennial Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife on the National Mall in Washington, DC. If you know lefse, you get it, and tourists in the crowd who knew lefse would crowd around after each session, enjoying samples. Mom has even appeared on Norwegian TV in a program about how Norwegian Americans celebrate Christmas. Now it's my turn to demo this method, this time using the internet. I'm still using my mom and her equipment, though.