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 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.
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!
Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll share my next post with you.