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Before we get to the lefse, some classic Christmas music. My dad used to sing this song in the kitchen when we were kids. I really miss that guy.
Let's start the lefse diary with some heavy metal lefse making as an introduction.
The big season for lefse is between Thanksgiving and the Christmas-New Years Holidays and Scandinavian Americans celebrate by making and eating lefse. Lefse is a potato unleaven circular flat bread and it is delicious. It should be soft and moist, tender and not chewy. Lefse is eaten before, during and after the holiday meal. It is most commonly eaten by adding butter and sugar or brown sugar, then rolled into tube form. It is very tricky and labor intensive to make. Those issues along with the association with the infamous Scandanavian holiday dish known as lutefisk have made lefse a very under reported delicacy. It deserves far more attention than it gets. Fresh warm lefse right off the grill is an experience too rarely experienced in this world.
I have been thinking about the origins of the Nordic Holiday menu and its ancient origins. I think my analysis goes beyond explaining a weird menu. About 1000 years ago in addition to pushing back the boundaries of what is edible, my ancestors were THE number one most feared terrorist group on the planet. Now, they are giving out prizes for peace and about as terrifying as cream of mushroom soup. About 1000 years ago, my ancestors sat around in sod huts in the dark winter with no internet, no cable, no football and just trying to survive the extremely brutal and boring weather. The one thing they had to look forward to was the celebration that came when the sun had stopped sinking in the sky and looked to be returning. In honor of this event, there was a great gathering of the tribes and as part of the festivities there was an inter-tribal test of wills known as "Jeg vedder på at du ikke kan spise dette" which is roughly translated as "I bet you can't eat..........THIS" . Tribal leaders had spent many months prior to the contest creating and preparing dishes just for this moment. Some of these recipes have survived and are still around today but local laws may prohibit their availability. There is fermented trout and also fermented herring which is known as the foulest smelling food on this planet. Fermented shark from Iceland was described on season 2's Iceland episode of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern as "some of the most horrific things I've ever breathed in my life," but said the taste was not nearly as bad as the smell. Nonetheless, he did note that hákarl was "hardcore food" and "not for beginners." One unintended consequence of this contest was that the winner often did not survive and the losers or lesser contestants would inherit the winners wives and cattle. Thus over time, boastfulness and brashness were completely bred out of the population. The dishes described above have been handed down for generations. Lost to history are the preparations where family members came together and agreed, "This is disgusting, it ain't right and we are not going to do it anymore."
One hundred fifty years ago, many of them could no longer tolerate the brutal climate so they escaped and moved to Minnesota. In the course of just under a thousand years, the culture went from number one terrorist-rotten fish eating to Nobel Peace Prize Awarding-Lutheran Church Women's Auxiliary Lutefisk Dinners. Somewhere along the way, lefse was created and it was good.
To illustrate, here is a modern day Scandinavian American facing his heritage and holiday feast. He is not alone in his yearly confrontation with lutefisk. There are many like him who each holiday season vow to learn to eat and enjoy this traditional meal. The success rate is very low. Fortunately, he and other Scandinavian Americans have lefse to maintain a connection with their heritage.
The recipe I use and I believe most closely replicates the my family's recipe is found here. Son's of Norway lefse recipe. The ingredients and directions are listed below. The directions are not adequate to produce quality lefse. There are some critical parameters missing and I will do my best to fill these in.
6 cups riced or mashed russet potatoesIn addition, you will need a lefse griddle (capable of getting to 450-500 F), a lefse stick, a cloth covered rolling pin, excess flour and some clean towels.
1 tsp. salt
3 T. margarine or butter
1 T. sugar
2 T. heavy cream or evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Combine all ingredients except flour; refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Add flour; mix well. Heat lefse or other griddle to 400 degrees. Form dough into long roll and cut into 12 sections. Form each section into a small ball. Roll out very thin with cloth-covered lefse or regular rolling pin on cloth-covered lefse board or other surface. Dust board with flour when turning lefse dough. Bake on ungreased griddle until brown spots appear. Turn and bake other side. Stack lefse between 2 towels to cool. Store in refrigerator in plastic bags. Can be frozen.
The you tube below is not nearly as dynamic as the heavy metal lefse lady but is more informative. The first critical parameter she mentions is that the potatoes should be boiled until they are nice. Of course, we all want to boil potatoes until they are nice. Actually she mentions boiling the until they are nice...and just fork tender. This is important. I boil them until they are nice, little beyond potato salad potatoes but before mashed potato potatoes. It is very important not to overcook the potatoes.
The rest of the ingredients are mixed by hand with the warm mashed or riced potatoes , not with a blender. They should be mixed just until the batch is uniform and most of the lumps are gone. Too much kneading will make the lefse tough. The batch is then put in the refrigerator overnight, or if the temperatures are cool enough they can stored outside.
One other trick is to keep the dough cool while rolling out the lefse. If it gets sticky, you can add more flour and/or re-cool the dough. If you use too much flour, your lefse will taste like flour. Once again, you roll out the lefse until it is nice and just so. If it is too thin, the lefse will tear when you try to pick them up. The lefse should not be too much thicker.
If you get it right, your lefse will look like this.
So Ole was laying on his death bed, gasping for life. He gets a wiff of fresh lefse being made downstairs in the kitchen. With his last remaining strength, he crawls down and finally makes it to the spot where Lena is making the lefse. He rises up and reaches for a fresh piece when suddenly Lena spots him. She brings the lefse stick up and then rapidly down and cracks Ole right on the fingers. "Ole!!" she says, "those are for the funeral".I want to thank all of the regular diarists again for keeping our GUS community going and wish everyone a happy smoke-free Christmas and New Year.
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