Thursday, November 29, 2018

My Mother's Lefse

My Mother's Lefse

My mother's recipe for lefse--the soft potato flatbread beloved by Norwegians and their descendants at home and abroad. This recipe uses potato flakes for an easy, smooth dough.


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image of a blue Polish pottery plate with pieces of folded lefse piled on it


Lefse


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.



I'm sharing my mother's lefse recipe today because, more than any other food, lefse represents a Norwegian Christmas to me. I want to leave a record of this recipe for my children in the technology available to me today.


A recipe for the soft potato flatbread beloved by Norwegians at home and abroad. This recipe uses potato flakes for an easy, smooth dough.



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 weirdos who may prefer it. You savory lefse eaters . . . well, keep on being you.


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 way is different than what LeAnne does, and I want to be authentic to my mom's recipe.



three generations of women making lefse in the kitchen together



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.]


a floured pastry cloth with a piece of rolled lefse, a rolling pin, and the stick to carry the lefse to the griddle



My mother learned how to make lefse 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].


image of a piece of lefse being lifted off the pastry cloth with a stick



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, chatting and 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.

mixing up a batch of dough


GIF of mixing lefse dough and shaping into balls




shaping before rolling


image of grandmother showing grandson how to shape lefse before rolling out the dough




failure is always an option--and a tasty one too


photo of a misshapen piece of lefse cooking on the griddle



This video shows my mom making the first piece of a batch of lefse. She rolls out the dough until we can see the pastry cloth markings through it which is how we ensure it's thin enough. Then she checks to make sure it's not bigger than the paper towel it will cool on. Finally she rolls it up on the spuda and carries it to the griddle.



Once she's sure the griddle is very hot, she unrolls the lefse onto it. [Mom knows her griddle heats evenly and doesn't need to spin the lefse for even cooking.] After the lefse is blistered on one side, she flips it over and cooks the other side. Then she picks up the lefse and walks back to the paper towel, realizing on the way that we need a new location for the finished stack so we're not walking all over the kitchen while doing the lefse dance. It's kind of a cardio exercise.



Potato Lefse (Recipe from Marjory Olsen Olson)

This recipe was developed in a university agricultural research facility in Crookston, Minnesota in the 1970s. Crookston is in the Red River Valley where potatoes are harvested and processed into instant potato flakes.


Note:  This recipe requires chilling the dough before rolling it out. If I'm planning to cook the lefse in the morning, I'll mix up the dough the night before and leave it in the fridge to chill overnight. If I'm planning to cook in the afternoon, I'll mix up the dough while I'm having my morning cuppa and chill it until I'm ready to cook. You'll need several flat surfaces--to roll out the dough, to cook the lefse, and to hold the cooked lefse until you're all finished. Once you set everything up (and have flour all over the kitchen) you might as well keep on going until you've used up all the dough.


photo of a blue Polish Pottery plate piled with folded lefse




I know other folks' traditional recipes start with whole potatoes. For more recipes using potatoes, please see my Potato Recipes Collection. It's part of the Visual Recipe Index by Ingredient, a resource for folks like me eating from the farm share, the farmer's market, the garden, the neighbor's garden, and great deals on ugly produce at the grocery store.

I'm sharing more recipes on my Pinterest boards, follow me there. If you like a good peek behind the scenes like I do, follow me on Instagram. Need a good read? I'm sharing articles of interest on my Facebook page, follow me there. Want to know How to Use This Blog?



This was my 5th #ChristmasWeek recipe. I shared Finnish Pulla {Cardamom Coffee Braid}, Pecan Brownie Bites for a Cookie Drive, Scandinavian Fruit Soup, and Toffee Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies. I'm beat! Time to put on the fuzzy socks and curl up under a blanket to enjoy the Christmas lights.


This recipe was first posted in November 2014 and updated in November 2018.


6 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this recipe but it sounds like something I would really like!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather,
      It's one of those things that you either know--and love--or it hasn't crossed your radar.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  2. Ahhh this is just totally beautiful! I love hearing your mom’s natural teaching style come out. I’m also very keen on the idea of not using a cloth on the lefse rolling pin.

    “How long have you had this griddle?” Lovely ... lovely ... lovely ...

    PS I love how Mrs Olsen Olson is disdainful of Mrs Olson’s Lefse. PPS Merry Christmas, all!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alanna,
      I was so glad to have the opportunity to make that video. And the others that I've taken. Just special.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  3. I love this post: the recipe, the story line, the pictures, everything about it. It sings authenticity. Well done, my friend. You did your mom right.

    ReplyDelete