Lefse Making: Then and Now, Here and There

On Saturday my Grandma’s niece and her husband came to “Christmas Eve” dinner at our house.  They live in Vermont and had to drive down (and back) through a snow storm to share this time with us (what nice relatives!)  My son and I made the lefse right before they got there, so as to have the freshest and most tender lefse possible for our dinner.  If you don’t know what lefse is, well, it’s a Norwegian flatbread made of mashed poatoes that looks like a flour tortilla and is rolled up with butter and cinnaomn-sugar.  (See my Lefse tab above for more posts on lefse.)

Bubby knows that the cooks always get to eat the first lefse.  What he didn’t realize was why we have this tradition: basically because the first one never looks quite right and Grandma never wanted to serve it that way.  So we would always eat it and destroy the evidence.  Well, this time, the first piece of lefse REALLY wasn’t all that great.  Far too much flour and overcooked — came out stiff (always a bad sign!)  Bubby and I ate it, but we had to “try” the second one, too, cause after the first failure, we had to be sure that we would not be serving the family low-quality lefse!  🙂  I remarked that when I made lefse with Grandma, our fist one never looked THAT bad before — I must be losing my touch.  Or maybe it’s just this darned head cold I’ve got….

Our technique did improve, you’ll be happy to hear, and we served a nice stack during dinner.  In fact, I serve lefse with the Christmas Eve meal (even though technically it should go afterwards with the sweets). But we could never wait until after the main meal was over.  If it were up to me, we’d just have Swedish meatballs and lefse on our plates.  What’s the point of all the rest?  I noticed that Bubby ate his lefse first, and well, who cares.  I smiled cause he’s Momma’s kid, isn’t he?

After dinner, gift opening, rice pudding (I got the almond again this year, so good luck to ME!), and after our cousins left, our dog Maggie decided she was not to be left out any longer, and she pulled half of the remaining lefse off the plate and onto the floor.  BAD DOG!  BAD DOG!!!!!    Ah, but who can blame her?  They are so delicious!

When I was recently going through some of my Scandinavia trip pictures, I found these ones of the lefse exhibit at the Folk MUseum in Oslo, Norway.  The young woman is making potato-less lefse, which I learned last year from my on-line friends is, in fact, legitimate lefse.  Hardanger lefse with flour and milk — very lovely.  Not what I think of as lefse, but still yummy.  Anyway, here are the pictures.  Makes me glad that I have an electric griddle to cook mine on — a heck of a lot more convenient that a wood fire hearth (though not as picturesque)!

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Lefse season fast approaching

Ah, the crispness in the air 9we’ll hit a low in the 20s tonight), the wind swaying the bare branches of the trees, the red and green decorations appearing in the stores…yes, it’s … lefse time!  HUH?

For those of you uninitiated ones, lefse is just the most delicious treat ever, that’s all.  I’ve already posted a number of times on lefse, so I won’t repeat. You can click on the tab above to see those posts.

But I will add something new.  Someone recently searched my site with the terms, “making lefse large batch.”  So I wanted to give some advice on this topic.  I don’t know just HOW large a batch this person has in mind, but I’ve made a hundred lefse before, and that’s a lot for one person.

Do not cut corners on the mashing part, i.e., I always recommend ricing the potatoes to avoid lumps.  You can’t roll out a piece of potato lefse dough if there are hunks of potatoes left in it.  Maybe if you have a LOT of lefse to make, you could run the potatoes through a food mill, like you would applesauce — just make sure you leave no lumps.  Effort on this front pays off in the end.

Also, do NOT add all of the flour to the cold mashed potatoes at once.  Yuck!  It gets too sticky if it sits for a while.  Only add flour to maybe 2 or 3 cups of potatoes at a time, mix, and then roll out the individual circles of lefse.  Then repeat until finished. This will keep you from making too sticky a dough and then having to add too much flour.

When people tell me that they have had potato lefse and thought it was too heavy, I always think that the problem is the potatoes are not properly whipped and too much flour was added.  If you make it right, potato lefse is tender and moist.  That’s what Grandma taught me, and I’ve found it to be true as I’ve taken over the lefse-making in my family.

Ah, now I’m hungry.  Darn.

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and
Grandma’s Stinky Cheese

Today I learned a lot about Norwegan food, mostly how everything I
thought I knew about it was wrong. Or at least not quite right. We
had a chance to visit again with my oldest relative in Norway,
Kristianna, and I asked her a lot of questions about many topics,
including Norwegian food from the old days.

Lefse, as some of my readers have pointed out, is not made with
potatoes in Nowegian cuisine, as a matter of course. Most lefse seems
to be made of flour not potatoes. One can find potato lefse here in
the Old Country, but it tastes a little sour. In fact, I am told that
sour milk is an ingredient in both kinds of lefse. Hmmm. I had an
opportunity to buy some at the local grocery store tonight. Okay but
not as good as my Grandma made.

Rommegrot. That is what I always make with lefse at Christmas, or so
I thought that was what I was making. Turns out I was making what is
called flotegrot! The difference is one makes flotegrot from cream,
and rommegrot is actually made from sour cream (one part sour cream to
two parts milk). Still cooked using the same method, but different
end product. Also, I discovered that rommegrot and flotegrot are
summer/fall dishes not Christmas time because in the winter the cows
stopped producing milk. Rommegrot, in fact, was the star dish of the
autumn harvest festival. Go figure.

I also heard a little about gammelost, what my grandma always called
stinky cheese. Her grandma from Norway always brought this
foul-smelling homemade cheese with her when she came to visit.
Grandma talks in her book about how that cheese reeked. We cannot get
it in the US (I have tried), but I was able to buy some in that same
grocery store tonight. Oh my goodness. Talk about disgustingly
foul!!! Not only does it smell bad (though not as bad as I had
imagined), but the taste is utterly unpalatable. How anyone can like,
let alone ingest such a substance is beyond me.

All kinds of myths shattered, folks!

And while I’m at it, turns out also that those beautifully
embroidered, traditional native costumes (called bunads) that they
“wear in Norway” are an early twentieth-century invention from
Southern Norway. My forebearers never wore such clothes. They wore
black wool maybe with a white colar to spice things up a bit, never
danced or drank, and spent long winter nights reading sermons and
other religious texts aloud to the family as they knitted or mended
fishing nets.

In some ways, my grandma had more in common with this lovely elderly
relative, Kristianna, that I met with today than I had in common with
grandma myself, despite the language barrier (K. does not speak
English) and different nationalities. Life when they were young was
similar in Norway and Minnesota — both on farms in rural and somewhat
isolated areas. I just kept thinking today how alike they were, how
much seeing K. reminded me of my wonderful grandma. It was a good day
today, but like so much on this trip, bitter sweet.

With internet problems continuing, I am not sure when I can post
again. Until we meet again, takk and ha det!

Vikings, Farmers, and Fiskers: A Day in Oslo

Blood rains from the cloudy web on the broad loom of slaughter.  The web of man, grey as armour, is now being woven; The Valkyries will cross it with a crimson weft.

Okay, not my words!  This comes from the Great Icelandic work, Njal’s Saga, written around 1200 AD. But I thought I’d start with it because my friend and I began our day today (after a leisurely and HUGE Norwegian breakfast) by going to the Vikings Museum across the bay.  It rained all morning but cleared around the time we walked over to the Folk Museum, which was a good thing since the first place was indoors and the second largely outdoors.

Vikings are amazing.  Okay, so I’m not thrilled about all the rape and pillage, kill and slaughter, etc. part.  But I saw and read a lot in the museum about Viking culture and how varied it really was.  Farmers and traders were even more numerous than warriors.  It’s just that the blood and guts stuff captures our imagination the most.  Well, I tell you, seeing a real 850 AD Viking ship is impressive!

Next, at the Folk Museum, we got to see houses and other buildings from different regions of the country.  And lo and behold, in one of the houses a woman was making LEFSE!!  I just about flipped.  Certainly I whipped out the 20 kroners fee and enjoyed every last bite.  I’ve written a lot about lefse and won’t bore you with that stuff now.  Suffice it to say that THIS lefse was soft and chewy and rather thicker than I had ever seen.  But it was also a potato-less lefse.  Several people have come to my blog looking for such recipes (lefse no potatoes), so here’s the one the museum provided:

Hardangerlefse

2 eggs

250 grams sugar

125 grams melted butter/margarine

1/2 litre buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

about 1 kilo wheat flour

Barley flour

butter, sugar, cinnamon

Mix eggs with sugar and butter, and stir into the milk.  Mix the baking powder with some flour and stir into the blend.  Mix with so much flour that the dough is easy to roll.  Barley flour makes it easier to roll out the lefse.  Bake the lefse ona  griddle or in a dry frying pan. Serve with butter, sugar, and cinnamon on top.

Now, it was a pretty good treat and all, but NOT real lefse as far as I am concerned.  The lady making the lefse told me that this recipe is for special occasion lefse, and potato lefse is for everyday .  Yeh, that’s fine by me.

The Folk Museum was wonderful.  I learned a lot about Norwegian farming in the nineteenth century as well as architecture and culture.  Very cool place to visit, especially the stave church on the grounds.  Oh, and the funniest thing…we met a high school girl there who was born in the city where I now live.  Talk about “it’s a small world”!

Our final museums were nearby: the Kon Tiki where we saw the flimsy ships that Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific from Peru to Tahiti.  Cool but the museum was closing, so we just popped in for a glimpse. We had a little more time at the Norwegian Maritime Museum, which stays open later.  Also very interesting and helpful for my research, too.  I got to see the kinds of boats used by my ancestors when they fished in the Lofoten fisheries in the far north in Norway.  Hard to imagine such work being done in relatively small craft.  I’ll be up north tomorrow, though, and will hopefully be going out to a nearby island off the coast of Bodø, so I’ll get to try out the whole boat thing on the coast.  We’ll see how my stomach likes that!

So, it was a day of vikings, farmers, and fiskers (fishermen).  Tomorrow we fly to north of the Arctic Circle to Bodø.  I am unsure about internet connection in the apartment where we will be staying, so don’t be surprised if I do not post every day, as I have been doing.  I’ll try to get on the web every day if I can, but I have no idea if this will be possible.  For now, it’s time to pack for our early morning flight to the far north!

Christmas without Grandma: Eating my Way through Grief

This year was the second Christmas without Grandma. I didn’t fall apart like last year, when we decorated the tree. I didn’t get all sniffly when I prepared the lefse and rommegröt. I didn’t feel particularly glum when I cooked Grandma’s Swedish meatballs.

But I ate. A lot.

Even so, I did not go off the Weight Watchers plan. I just lucked out because I started the program back in October on a Tuesday, so my week ends on Monday night. Christmas Eve was Monday night, and, as always, I had barely eated into my 35 extra points for that week. So enjoying a second helping of meatballs, multiple lefse, and rommegröt, a handful (only one!) of M & Ms and a glass of wine, only put me 18 points down out of my 35. Then the week “ended.”

Christmas Day I got 35 more points. Yippee! I used up 16 of my 35 for the week on Christma Day and night. The day after Christmas there was still lefse calling to me, but I only used 6 of the 35. You see, the feasting was abating. 🙂 Of course, that leaves me little room for New Years Eve (which will fall on the last day of this “week”), but that holiday isn’t very important to me, and I’m not a big drinker, so I think I’ll make it through without going outside my points total.

The last time I did Weight Watchers, I was so “good” during the holidays, only eating minimally of high points foods. And I felt horribly deprived. Ugh. That approach was clearly not sustainable. I’m looking for a different path. Eat basically what I want on select days of the year when food matters to me, and then work doubly hard to lose what I gain right away instead of letting the weight creep up.

Truth be told, I needed to eat through my grief this year. The food of Christmas spells comfort to me, it stirs memories of unconditional love and vast quantities of assurance and hope. I miss Grandma, and eating “her food” with near abandon, helped me to feel her near me again.

What I did do “right” was NOT eat filler stuff that I normally would consume just because it was in front of me. I ate the things I really loved, and I stopped when I was full. But when I got a little hungry again, I ate more of the good stuff instead of counting and waiting and apportioning my pleasure to small doses per day.

Now, one of the down sides to having a week that starts on Tuesday is that my regular Weight Watchers meeting time is on Tuesdays and thus is cancelled for two weeks because of Christmas and New Years. I coud go to some other meeting, but I am pretty busy getting ready for my Peru trip and doing holiday things, and I prefer to stick with the group leader and members I know. So I’ve decided that I’ll go and weigh in, at least, on the day before I leave for Peru, Jan. 3. That way I’ll know how my strategy worked this holiday season, and I’ll also have a way to find out what happens to my weight on the trip. (I’m curious if I’ll lose weight when not trying — merely because of the conditions we’ll be under in rural Peru.) Anyway…

Did eating help me deal with my grief? Yes.

Do I still have a problem with eating? Yes.

Do I need to get back to eating fewer points per day? Yes.

AM I doing that? Yes. Well, after I finish those last four lefse, that is….

Christmas Eve Recipes: Another Dish to Serve with Lefse

As I stated earlier, lefse is pretty good all on its own … but here is another Scandinavian dish that goes great with lefse for Christmas Eve dinner. As always, stories are included 🙂 My lefse recipe and tips can be found in earlier posts (see lefse category at the right).

I like to serve fruita soupa with my lefse. Yes, I’m sure you can translate the Swedish: “fruit soup” — no mystery there! Our friends, Krista and Nils, who came to our Christmas Eve dinner that night that I wrote about in my post of Dec. 18, 2007, introduced us to fruita soupa, and I went nuts for this intensely flavored dish. I’ve served it every year since then.

Here’s how to make it:

First thing to do is to follow package directions to pre-soak LARGE tapioca pearls (need the large kind — small just don’t work that well, though they are better than nothing). Basically, the directions say to soak a half cup of tapioca in 2 cups of water overnight in a bowl in the refrigerator. You really need to soak this as directed or the tapioca will be too hard to cook thoroughly the next day! (I know from experience that it’s nearly impossible to cut corners on this step. But if anyone has a suggestion for how to speed up the process, please comment and let us know!)

Put soaked (and drained) tapioca pearls and dried fruit (apples, apricots, pears, prunes, raisins — a mixture of whatever you like) in a heavy pot (or, ideally, a crockpot if you’ve got one) and add in enough water to cover fruit, plus an inch or so. Very thinly slice a whole lemon, rind and all (though you’ll want to remove the seeds). Add to pot. Toss in two whole cinnamon sticks. Heat this up on medium or so until it gets a tiny bit bubbly and then reduce heat to low and simmer for hours. Exact timing will depend on the tenderness of the fruit and other such variables, but the idea is to really meld the flavors, so I usually put it in a crock pot and let it cook all day. If you are cooking it on the stove, be sure to stir every once in a while to avoid burning the bottom — remember, there’s a high sugar content in the mixture due to the fruit.

Periodically check mixture (regardless of the cooking method you are using) and add more water when the mixture gets too thick. The final consistency that you are looking for is like beef stew, chunky but you still need a spoon to eat it. So for most of the cooking time, you’ll want it thinner than this to cook down to that final consistency. This dish improves with a little “aging,” so feel free to make it a day or two ahead and refrigerate. It can be microwaved to reheat for serving.

I serve fruita soupa warm with a little half and half or cream (at room temperature or cool — doesn’t matter) drizzled over the top of each individual serving (or put cream in container and let folks drizzle however much they want). The cream does wonders for this tangy dish and rounds out the flavors beautifully. (Those watching their calories can substitute fat-free half and half.) I do NOT add sugar or other sweeteners. The fruit is pretty sweet as it is. And though dried fruit is higher in calories than fresh fruit (and thus has more weight watchers points — 2 pts. per 1/4 cup), it is still a healthy choice because of all of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Very filling and satisfying, too! Eaten with some lefse and rommegröt and you’ve almost got a meal!

I have been told that in the old days folks offered fruita soupa to pregnant women and new moms. Fiber for the expecting and iron for the newly delivered. So when I was in my third trimester, I asked my friends to bring me fruita soup every week or so. Luckily that was in the fall, so it didn’t seem too out of season. But I’m sure they must have thought I was a bit wacko to keep asking for this. Oh, and why didn’t I cook it myself? I went into pre-term labor (which was stopped after a few days hospital stay), but I was on bedrest at home for nine weeks. I guess that was a scary time for me in some ways, but honestly, what I remember most is the kindness of our friends and strangers who pitched in and gave us all manner of help. Fruita soupa was just one of many delicious dishes folks shared with us; there were brownies (I craved these in a purely carnal way — I simply HAD to have brownies), beef (same sort of craving), and pineapple (I once ate a whole pineapple in one day!) Our friends also helped usto finish the baby’s room, which had been left half-done when I entered the hospital, and some friends paid for a housecleaner to come and lend a hand once a week for a few months (the only time we’ve ever had such a luxury — wonderful!)

Our baby was safely delivered — one week late … isn’t that the way?!

These days, I only eat fruita soupa on Christmas Eve, but with every bite I recall the kind souls who looked after us when we needed their help. And I remember the lesson I learned from that experience: people actually get pleasure from helping others, so it’s not only okay to ask for help if you need it, but you are, in essence, doing folks a favor by giving them an opportunity to feel good about themselves!

What to Serve with Lefse (plus stories, of course!)

What to serve with lefse…? Nothing! Eat a stack of lefse for your whole meal 🙂 No, seriously, there are a few items that go really well with lefse. I’ll be putting up recipes in the next few days, so you’ll have time to shop for ingredients. (P.S. Bonus story at the end of this post!)

The first thing that springs to mind is rommegröt (ROOM – UH – GROOT). Grandma told me that in the “Old Days” folks would milk a cow right after it gave birth and make a special dish from the ultra-creamy milk. I guess the calf was out of luck! But since they raised cows to produce cream and butter to sell, they wanted to wean the calves off the momma’s teat as soon as possible anyway. In fact, Grandma explained how they did this by dipping their hand into a bucket of milk and letting the calf lick their fingers, moving every closer and closer to the bucket of milk. I can imagine the rough tongue eagerly lapping the dripping milk from my hand….

Anyway, whatever the genesis of rommegröt, these days we make it with heavy cream from the supermarket! Buy a quart of the heaviest, richest cream you can find and heat it in a heavy pot very slowly — very slowly. Do not scorch or boil. The point is to heat until some of the butter rises to the top. You want it to separate some. Once you see the butter rising to the top, you are going to add a half teaspoon of salt (to bring out some flavor) and some all-purpose flour (add a tablespoon at a time, starting with 2 tablespoons — you can always add more if it doesn’t thicken properly) and whisk mixture to prevent lumps. Stir continuously. Heat at this point might need to go up a little to make sure the flour cooks, but again, do not scorch!

Cook for a few minutes or so until the mixture resembles cream of rice or sour cream (sort of). What you are looking for is a creamy porridge-like consistency. Pour the glop into a pretty dish and set on the counter top. Do not cover and do not refrigerate. Why? Because what you are after is a layer of melted butter floating on top of a cream-porridge. After the butter rises, sprinkle liberally with white sugar. As the dish cools, the sugar and butter will combine to make a crunchy top to this creamy dish.

If no butter separates out, do not panic. Just melt some butter and pour it on top. Voila! Rommegröt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pull that little trick. Every year I would talk to Grandma on the phone and ask her for help with my rommegröt: “It’s just not separating, Grandma!” Every year she’d ask if I coooked it slowly enough, etc. I think I’ve been in too much of a hurry too often (big surprise), and that has been my rommegröt’s downfall. When I slow down, it works fine.

A story about rommegröt…. When my husband and I were in graduate school at Washington State University a dozen or so years ago, before my son was born, we invited a Chinese exchange student (Boudi) and her son to share Christmas Eve dinner with us and another couple at our home. Now, every Christmas Eve, I always prepare a Scandinavian dinner in honor of my grandmother’s family (recipes to follow in coming days!) I figured that our Chinese friends would find this custom interesting, and they graciously accepted. In addition to the items I supplied (Swedish meatballs, rice, potatoes, carrots and peas, lefse, and rommegröt) our American friends supplied their own Scandinavian favorites (potato sausage, creamy cucumber salad, rice pudding, and fruita soupa). Yes, makes your mouth water, eh?!

Well, we sat down to eat and explained all the dishes, and Boudi and her son sampled everything. Then this boy — about 16 as I remember and tall as anything — asked if he might have seconds of the rommegröt. “Of course,” I said. I was surprised, though, because I had thought that, generally speaking, Chinese people tended to be lactose intolerant or at least did not care for dairy all that much. Boudi then explained that in their particular region of China, one of their regional specialties is a kind of fried cheese. AH!

After his fourth helping, the Chinese teenager polished off the last of the rommegröt! We adults all stared with gaping mouths. Then we shared a hearty laugh. Eeghads, that boy can eat, I thought. Of course that was before my son was born, as I’ve said, so I had no idea yet how much a growing boy can consume.

Eventually, we all got bundled up for the drive to town to take Boudi and her son home and to head to the Christmas Eve service at our church. We lived 17 miles from Moscow, Idaho where we went to church — our own town of 1,000 souls was smack dab in the middle of miles and miles of rolling wheat and lentil fields. Now covered with about a foot of fresh snow. Uh, oh.

After a wild ride into town with our international guests, we made our way to church. Candles and friends greeted us, and as we sang the old, familiar carols, we could see the snow continue to fall outside the windows.

The next morning, we awoke to a brilliant blue sky, dazzling sun, and two and a half feet of snow. That Christmas day we snuggled under the covers, snuggling with our dog and watching old movies, and we ate leftovers — minus the rommegröt, of course. Ah, but there was still lefse!