Monday, July 19, 2010

Gramma & Grampa Fjerstad's Lefse

One of the things I treasure most about family is the passing on of edible traditions.  When I was a teen my first husband's Norwegian grandparents taught me to make this thin, light potato pancake.  The recipe is delicious, of course, but the most wonderful thing about it was their tradition of making it together.  Just before Thanksgiving each year Carol and Bernie would make a huge batch of lefse.  Gramma would do the mashing, portioning and rolling, while Grampa's job was to do the cooking.  He would stand at the griddle with his lefse turner, a yardstick-like piece of wood, and happily flip each pancake over as it browned.  They would wrap and freeze half the pancakes for Christmas dinner and serve the remainder at the Thanksgiving meal.  Even though I learned to make it for the holidays, lefse is served all year round in place of a dinner roll or as a dessert.  I know many people like to eat lefse with cinnamon and sugar, lingonberry jam or even meat and cheese, but Grampa and Gramma taught me to simply spread it with butter and roll it up and that continues to be my preferred way of eating it.  The one tip Gramma stressed the most was to make sure your potatoes are refrigerator cold before adding the flour.  If they're warm when the flour is added the mixture turns to paste and will be impossible to roll out properly.  I'm still using Gramma's handwritten recipe, but I've been meaning to post it for a long time now, to make sure I don't lose it.
Traditional lefse making in Scandinavian countries was a practical way to use up an abundance of potatoes.  Now, for me, it's a way to share a taste of the heritage and the love I received from my son's great-grandparents.  And while I don't expect my young, rebel of a teenager to pick up a lefse stick anytime soon, I do hope that recipes like this will live on in his heart as a loving memory of his family.  Who knows?  One day I may be lucky enough to share this skill and my tools with his wife or his children.
The lefse rolling pin, with it's deep, checkerboard grooves and the yardstick-length lefse turner are traditional items used to make the pancakes, but both can easily be substituted with a smooth rolling pin and a spatula.  I'll often make the mashed potatoes the night before, so they can refrigerate and cool completely, and then the next day I add the flour, roll out the pancakes and put them on the dry griddle.  I've kept a round-shaped, Daisy brand griddle, for almost 20 years, just for making lefse.  But again, it can be done on a rectangular griddle or even in a fry pan on the stove.  If you make or enjoy lefse yourself, I hope this has brought back pleasant memories for you.  If you don't, I hope it inspires you to explore this Scandinavian tradition.

Gramma and Grampa Fjerstad's Lefse
5 lbs potatoes (8 cups mashed)
1/2 cup heavy cream (not whipped)
3/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups flour (scant)

Peel the potatoes, cut into quarters (or smaller) and boil until tender.  You should be able to pierce the potato easily with a fork, but feel a slight resistance in the center.  Don't over-boil them.
Drain the cooked potatoes and then return them to the hot pot, but do not place back on the hot burner.  Let sit for about 5 minutes to steam out any additional moisture.
Mash the potatoes with the cream, butter and salt.  (Do this by hand, not an electric mixer.)
Place the potatoes in the refrigerator to cool completely.  (I like to stir them periodically until they're cold in the center.).
Begin stirring in the flour, a cup or so at a time.
Divide dough into 1-2 inch sized balls and roll each out into paper thin rounds on a floured board.
Bake on a hot, dry griddle. 
Lightly brown one side and then carefully flip the pancake to brown the other side.
Remove to a towel-lined plate (cloth or paper) and continue to stack the pancakes with paper towels between each one and a cloth towel to cover all.
To store, layer each cooled pancake between waxed paper and wrap in plastic wrap.  Store in the refrigerator until mealtime or wrap all in a Ziploc baggie and freeze for up to 6 months.
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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License