The holidays are fast approaching; it is also a time full of traditions. I realized that as I get older, I am starting to value these traditions more and more as the years go by. One of our annual family traditions is making lefse (it’s actually pronounced “lefsa” but spelled with an “e” at the end). Lefse is a traditional Norwegian flatbread. It looks similar to a tortilla, but is made up of potatoes, lard or butter and flour (to name a few). It’s especially common here in the upper Midwest because of the strong Scandinavian heritage. One can even find it in the grocery stores around this time of the year.
The recipe varies from person to person and from family to family. A quick Google search yields a few different recipes, some with picture directions. Unfortunately, I cannot give out our recipe since it has been passed down for generations. My sister and I understood at an early age that this recipe remains strictly within the family or else our dough will always be sticky and rough. Okay I’ll admit, the last part was never threatened to us but I had to get in a Sophia Petrillo moment (if you understand this reference you are, officially, one of the coolest people ever!).
Every year in the beginning to middle of November, my mom and aunt spend an entire Saturday making batches of lefse. A few years ago, I joined the ranks and, more recently, my sister did as well. You need special equipement for making lefse such as a specific grill, flour mat, rolling pin and a long wooden stick (which I use as a sword at least twice during the process). We each have our own station and our own duties.
We make quite a bit since lefse is eaten at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. At Thanksgiving some will eat it with butter or butter and sugar. My mom likes to put the “works” on her pieces – turkey, potatoes, gravy, yams and cranberries – then rolls it up like a burrito. I prefer mine plain or with turkey and gravy. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, tastes better than swiping one right off the grill! Ummm . . . not that I swipe it while people are working on it . . . I at least wait until they turn their backs.
While the whole process and the work that goes into making lefse is exhausting, it is well worth it! Beyond enjoying it during the holidays, it means a little bit more than that. Perhaps it’s the fact that there are very few things now-a-days that are passed down through generations. We use the same recipe and process that has been used for countless years. The recipe card holds the handwriting of different people over decades with their little notes here and there.
This year my sister and I made our own dough and I was able to use my wooden stick (aka sword) for the first time (it was a memorable Christmas present from last year). I had a definite sense of accomplishment. Of belonging. Amongst the ranks of my mom and aunt, of my grandmother and great-grandmother and of those before. Because, fundamentally, isn’t that what family traditions are for? To unite not only those present but to connect them to the past?! Isn’t this just one big “connect the dots” picture?! At this point you may be thinking that I’m over thinking this whole process, like I do most things, but perhaps family traditions are simply meant to remind us to be thankful for family. To give us memories that can help us through the good and the bad moments in life. To pause one day and say “Do you remember that time . . . ?”
A little flat piece of potato bread taught me so very much….