Eat & Drink

Slow Food

Sometimes reviving a family tradition, like making Norwegian lefse, isn’t quite as sweet as it sounds.

December 2012

I am compelled to make lefse, the Norwegian tortilla-like potato flatbread—made mostly today by grandmothers, or descendants thereof, who are eager to keep the memory of the mother country alive. Made by my grandmother, lefse (pronounced “LEF-suh”) came in stacks, wrapped in foil, around Thanksgiving and would last through the new year. We ate it topped with butter, cinnamon, and sugar; nuked in the microwave; and rolled up into easy-eating bliss. The simple thought of lefse conjures vivid memories of my sister sitting across the table from me as we devoured, and likely fought over, the dwindling stash. 

My first attempt came last winter. The recipe called for 10 pounds of potatoes to be transformed into a sticky, doughy mass. I won’t lie: It was a struggle. My grandmother was patient and calm. I am not. I like to multitask, to see how much I can get done in a short amount of time, and then I try to do it faster the next time. Rolling out tacky dough and cooking one piece of lefse at a time on a griddle elicited curses, followed by guilt. I knew my grandmother would not approve. In the end, the lefse turned out misshapen but altogether fine. Even so, I left the
kitchen defeated.  

I promised myself I would do it again. That is what tradition is, after all: repetition. This year, I dedicated a full day to the process. With a few successful rounds pulled from the griddle (I had learned something from last year!), I was feeling confident and wanted to move more quickly. Faster movements led to mistakes, annoyance, and guilt. Frankly, I realized, this connection to the past I longed for was no fun at all. 

At the height of my frustration, my husband entered the flour-dusted kitchen and spotted the warm stack of flatbread nestled between towels on the counter. “Lefse!” he cried and immediately dove into the pile. I smiled. This is what lefse is about. It wasn’t about the solo kitchen time, or the struggle, or eating it alone. It was about sharing it with others.

I packed the remainder of my accomplishment into a freezer bag. It was soon transported from my freezer to a suitcase to an overhead compartment on a plane, en route to my niece’s first birthday. Again, my sister and I sat together, doling out the rounds, passing the cinnamon and sugar. This time, it was the two of us introducing lefse to a new generation. I have no doubt that would make my grandmother proud.

Tags: