family at Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving Traditions

Even if your family serves a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I bet there is at least one dish that makes your holiday celebration unique. You don’t have to take my word for it, just remember that first Thanksgiving away from home. What was missing? Unless that dish is served, it’s not Thanksgiving.

For me that special food is lefse, a Norwegian (Scandinavian) flatbread, similar to a tortilla. Leftover mashed potatoes are combined with flour, rolled into thin disks, and browned on a hot, flat pan. At our house we spread the lefse with butter, sprinkle with a spoonful of sugar, roll it up and enjoy. So yummy!

lefse
How difficult can it be to make lefse?

Lefse made an appearance on our Thanksgiving table thanks to my paternal grandparents. The stacks they produced must have required several cooking sessions. Yet in one day my gathered relatives could consume the entire batch. My Grandma tried to keep the lefse hidden until the turkey was served, but my Dad and his sister usually found and raided her stash. The kids-me included-were right behind them.

The annual lefse feast ended when the task became more than my grandparents could handle. I’m not sure what happened to their lefse making equipment, but it didn’t come my way. After I married and moved across the country, I learned to roast a turkey and prepare my favorite side dishes, but lefse remained off the menu. Occasionally I’d find a commercially prepared version in the grocery store or hit the jackpot at an ethnic craft/food fair, but that was an unpredictable process. If I wanted to reintroduce lefse to our celebration, I needed to learn how to make it.

A few years ago, I bought a special lefse pan, dug out my Grandma’s recipe, and rolled up my sleeves. Now I understand why the lefse only made an appearance once a year. It’s a process. First the potatoes need to be peeled, cooked, and mashed. Then the cooled potatoes are mixed with non-exact amounts of flour to form a roll-able dough. The thin, sticky, easily torn dough must be rolled into rounds. (It’s like making dozens of pie crusts and I really hate rolling out pie crust.) If the dough is too thick the lefse will be tough, if it’s too thin it gets crispy. It’s given me great respect for my Grandma’s patience and endurance.

This is not a one-person job, it’s a group effort. The fragile disk must be transferred to the hot pan. It WILL tear if handled. So, a helper must carefully slide a ruler-like wooden stick under the dough. If it doesn’t’ tear, bunch, or stick, it’s placed on the VERY hot pan. Another helper must supervise the quick cooking process. When browned on one side and flipped, the dough will pouf. A sharp stick must be kept at the ready to poke and pop the bubbles. Over time, we have refined the process and added an annual lefse making session into our Thanksgiving meal preparations. Ours may not exactly replicate the lefse of my youth, but it tastes great.

lefse pan
Lefse making supplies-what you don’t see is the flour covered floor.

Family food traditions form precious links to the past. I fondly recall and truly miss those extended family gatherings. However, the youngsters are now adults and the elders are no longer with us. Even if we tried to recreate those dinners, they wouldn’t be the same. Still those happy childhood memories endure and homemade lefse will always hold a special place in my heart.

I hope you and yours enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving and create wonderful memories together. What Thanksgiving dish is special to you? Share in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Traditions”

  1. My mother was not fond of cooking. I’m not either. As I grew older, the favorite Thanksgiving for our family was to go out to eat. There was a restaurant on the water in Monterey that had a buffet on Thanksgiving and Christmas. As often as we could, that would be our Thanksgiving.

    I married into a family where Thanksgiving meal was a big thing. Some Thanksgivings…I try. I’ve even learned to make fresh cranberry sauce after my husband was horrified by the jellied can-shape that was what I’d come to think it was. I’m still shocked at how easy and delicious that simple dish can be.

    Your lefse sounds wonderful…but I’d have to find someone to make it for me!

    1. I love hearing how different families celebrate Thanksgiving! My meal is VERY simple. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and some type of vegetable. (No Martha or Ina flourishes!) My daughter makes pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. I always pick a large turkey…they are on sale…and they eat leftover turkey/potato/gravy sandwiches the entire weekend. I think it’s well worth the initial time investment. After we eat my husband makes turkey soup (so good!). I’d be happy to share a piece of lefse, but they are already gone! Maybe next year *smile*!

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