Friday, December 19, 2014

My Mother's Lefse #ChristmasWeek

My Mother's Lefse #ChristmasWeek

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

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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 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 weirdos who may prefer it.

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.


Here is 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, checks to make sure it's not bigger than the paper towel it will cool on, 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. Once 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 that we need a new location for the finished stack. The dear departed Wee Oliver Picklepants was helping, too.
mixing up a batch of dough
shaping before rolling
failure is always an option--and a tasty one too

Potato Lefse (Recipe from Marjory Olsen Olson) (makes 15 pieces)

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.


  • 2 cups water
  • 3 Tablespoons shortening
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 cups potato flakes (mom & I use Hungry Jack)(bang the measuring cup on the counter to settle the flakes)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1½ cups unbleached all purpose flour plus more for dusting the . . . well, everything


  1. In a 3 quart pot bring water to boil (or use a large oven safe bowl and microwave on full power for 3 minutes), remove from heat and stir in shortening, butter, salt, milk, potato flakes, baking powder and sugar. 
  2. Cool to room temperature. 
  3. Transfer 1 cup of this potato mixture into a medium bowl (keep the rest refrigerated until ready to use--which can be another day or two). With your hand, work in ½ cup of flour. 
  4. Divide into 5 equal portions. On a flour-dusted pastry board and with a flour dusted grooved rolling pin, roll each portion to dinner plate size and as thinly as possible. [On a Foley pastry frame, we roll until we can see the markings through the lefse.] 
  5. Bake on a very hot griddle (around 400 degrees Fahrenheit), flipping once, until flecked with brown. 
  6. Lay each piece on a paper towel and cover with another paper towel forming a stack. 
  7. Once all the balls of lefse dough have been cooked, cover the stack with a kitchen towel while they cool. Fold and place on a serving tray once cool. 
  8. Serve at room temperature, spread with butter and dark brown or cinnamon sugar.

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!
This is 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! I thought I'd share my Year In Review post on Monday, but I may wait until after Christmas. Either way, I'm taking time off between my YIR post and New Year's to enjoy my family. I hope you do the same.

Swing by all the participants to see what they've been whipping up for the holidays:
Gingerbread Fudge by Cravings of a Lunatic
Biscoff Chocolate Chip Cookies by Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts
My Mother's Lefse by Farm Fresh Feasts & My Mom
Chocolate Dipped Madelines by My Catholic Kitchen
Chocolate Mint Fudge by Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
Boozy Cherries by Cooking In Stilettos
Salted Caramel Pie by From Gate to Plate
Holiday Mint M&M Chocolate Fudge by Food Lust People Love

This post is shared on the From the Farm Blog HopFood on Friday


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

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

  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!

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

  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.