Homemade Lefse

lefse I am a huge fan of ethnic food, which is one of the main reasons why I live in Minneapolis. But sometimes I forget that my European roots have some pretty great contributions to the “ethnic” category, with names that can compete with the likes of sambus and masamam and rellenos.

Take lefse (lef -suh) for example. The first holiday I spent with Eric’s family, we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner and I surveyed the fantastic looking spread my mother-in-law had put out…turkey: check. mashed potatoes: check. stuffing: check….but then I spied something that looked remarkably like the love-child of a tortilla and a crepe, and I innocently asked the table, “What’s that?”

Lefse dough The room fell eerily silent for a minute as they processed my question. Someone finally offered, “Lefse…it’s a Norwegian specialty,” and then…”You mean you’ve never had…or seen…lefse?”

“…..”

Uffda.”

Despite the fact that my Swedish ancestors and Eric’s Norwegian kinfolk probably lived mildly similar lives, I’d never seen, nor heard of, nor tasted lefse until that day a few years ago. After the initial shock wore off, I could see a lot of happiness in their eyes as they introduced me to this “poor man’s food” of Norway.

The dough is made of a mixture of flour and potatoes, milk and cream, then rolled within an 1/8 inch of its life on a muslin cloth. This is not a friendly dough. It longs to stick to the cloth…and more flour is added…and more sticking happens…and then your father-in-law, who is a pastor, gets the closest to cussing you’ve ever heard. There were “gosh-dernits” and “dang-bustits” flying all over the kitchen. When you hear the vocal racket subside, then you know you’ve got the right consistency for perfect lefse.

Lefse supplies Then, the delicate flatbread dough is transferred to the lefse griddle with this long, thin wooden stick that I’m sure Norwegian children probably used as viking swords. There, it sits on the heated grill for about a minute, then is flipped with another long stick, until it browns and bubbles slightly on both sides.

After that, it’s ready to be buttered liberally and sprinkled with sugar..and eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. You can put some jam in there. You can throw in your left-over turkey. Essentially, it’s a wrap. But a potatoey, soft, chewy wrap, that I think best goes with butter and sugar. (Purists…please feel free to weigh in on what is “best” or most traditional).

Lefse So that’s lefse. Carefully crafted. Simple-tasting. Blissfully traditional. We all have those foods that mean home to us…the ones you make at holidays in a warm and busy kitchen with some sort of festive music in the background. Lefse is no exception. It’s an event to make, and one that we were all involved in. It’s an un-decadent food from un-decadent people–but with a touch of sugar, it’s a delicious addition to a holiday meal. Call me nostalgic and a moderate history dork, but I love to imagine poor Norwegian immigrants scraping together enough cash to buy some sugar for their lefse to make Christmas really feel like Christmas. Food has that power to bring us home no matter where we are…

What are some of the foods that bring you home?


PS: Here is a story in the Norwegian oral tradition…

Ole was on his death bed. But before he died, he wanted to have one last taste of lefse. Even as weak as he was, he was able to crawl out of bed and go down the stairs to the kitchen. After about 20 minutes of agonizing pain he reached the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator door he slowly reached for the lefse. He was just about to grab it when suddenly a hand came out from nowhere, slapped his hand, and a voice boomed out, “Ole, that’s for the Funeral!”

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28 thoughts on “Homemade Lefse

  1. I love me some lefse! Growing up pure Scandinavian, it’s been a staple at holiday get togethers. Always with butter and sugar ONLY. =) I was lucky enough to marry into another Scandinavian family, and my mother in law makes the BEST lefse I’ve ever had. I haven’t learned to make it from her yet, but will someday! So happy you were introduced to and love lefse!
    ps – I’m a local gal too – found your blog via the MNFoodBloggers page=)

    • Glad to meet another MN blogger…and one that loves lefse! You should totally learn to make lefse – I’ve got aspirations to make it with real potatoes sometime…but it seems a little daunting, trying to deal with all that moisture from fresh potatoes…it was hard enough to find the right consistency with potato flakes!

  2. what a great post! i love the video clip and the story…will be sharing with my norwegian mother…brought back wonderful memories of my grandmother in north dakota…lefse…labor of love…thank you…pm

    • “labor of love” should have been the title of the post – how right you are! Mostly, my in-laws labored, while I flipped and ate warm lefse as it came off the griddle :)

  3. We’ve had lefse at Thanksgiving and Christmas for as long as I can remember…we’re butter and sugar people, though my dad would put jam on his. (But he wasn’t Norwegian, so there you are.)

  4. What a great post! I aspire to make it as thin as my mom someday!!! I prefer it simply with real butter and sugar (my mom even has a lefse sugar spoon that sprinkles sugar to an even consistency on your lefse!) but my grandfather always ate it with sausages rolled inside and covered in maple syrup.

    • okay. 2 things are amazing about your reply. 1) a lefse spoon? that’s awesome. did someone say stocking stuffer? and 2) sausage and maple syrup? must try.

  5. Lefse is also a family tradition on BOTH sides of my family. On Christmas morning, we wrap lefse around sausages – not really breakfast sausages, but sort of a combo between a hot dog and salami. Hard to explain, but really good! Eggs, varmipolsa (lefse and sausage), and almond puff makes for an amazing Christmas breakfast!

    • Wait…eggs, varmipolsa, and almond puff IN lefse? Or as separate items on a breakfast plate? Also…varmipolsa is possibly my new favorite word? Where does it come from? Does it just mean a combo of lefse and sausage?

      • all separate on a plate. :) its a good combo, though! varmipolsa… i think it may be a norwegian word? i tried to google it but couldn’t find it! that’s what we’ve always called the lefse/sausage rollup. pronounced var-ma-pole-sa.

        • Haha. “Varmapolsa” is probably the same as “varm pølse”, witch means “warm sausage” (or “hot dog”?). In Norway we wrap the sausage in a smaller lefse called “lompe” and. That’s “Pølse i lompe” (sausage in lompe).

          • great explanation! I’ll have to give that a try next time there’s lefse around….is it a spicy sausage? mild?

          • Norwegians through the history are not known for their extreme taste buds. It’s only during the latest decades that spicy food has been a part of norwegian food, and most people still like their sausage mild!

  6. You are a saint. I cannot wait to try this!

    I grew up in a small town in SW Minnesota and we celebrated many Norwegian holidays and lefse was a staple. My grandparents send me some every year! My mom always put butter and sugar and nuked hers. I just like butter and sugar :)

  7. Yum! Lefse is my all-time favorite. I always load it up with a lot of butter and sugar. No cinnamon, no jam, etc. For the past few years, I have been making it in a frying pan. I’m not as fussy as you guys were, so mine turns out a little thick. But when it’s hot from the pan, it’s oh so moist – melt-in-your-mouth moist. Yum! Thanks for posting.

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