Yep, it’s that time again, for the family Viking ship to sail into home port… It’s Christmas and the Norsky/Svenskas are about to bring out the: griddle, ricer, cloth boards and rolling pins!!!
They can’t wait to doff off their Viking helmets, roll up their sleeves, scrub up their hands, and peel 10 pounds of potatoes! They’ll need butter from milk from the Ole Milk Cow, and mountains of flour! What’s this all for?
Scalloped potatoes? No!
Potato Pie? No!!
Bangers and Mash? No!!!
Knodel, or Kugel? Nein!!!!
Papa rellenas? Nope!!
Pasties? “My word”, No!
Pommes Annas, Non!
Niet! – to potato bread, potato salad, or even a potato waffle!
Nor, are they about to make Rosti from Switzerland.
Or even Rumbledethumps (yes,a bona fide dish made of potatoes from bonnie Scotland)!!
No, for the Viking clans throughout the world
who truly love their fars and mors, their hjems and hems, their fjords and dals, innsjos and sjos, trads and tres, there is only one beloved delectable to be made this Christmas…
Now I have to clarify:- This is a scrumptious Viking viand created in Norway, so technically, it is a Norwegian thing. But, ya know… good neighbors sometimes share… ”Ja, they do and they swap ideas for recipes!” Thus the Swedes are happy to join in the fun… for they know how Sweeeeet(de) it is!
the ones in MY family!!! So, where does this flurry of flour come in?
Well, I’ll tell you:-
It all started with the first batch of Vikings to undertake this much coveted tradition with their eldest brother, who fondly remembered their Norwegian grandmother making them in her kitchen. We all, including myself, parked our knarrs, knorrs and drakkars close to the Head Master Lefse Chef’s Shoreside Longhouse. He, the Captain of this somewhat scandalous Scandinavian endeavor, allowed Svenskas in on the secret! I mean, think about it… Would your grandmother share traditional recipes with folks from across the border? Well of COURSE she would like to keep them exclusively under surreptitious lock and key. Ha! That was the old days. This is the 21st century, and the Swedes and Norwegians no longer feud over who does things better… at least I hope so!
So at that fateful gathering
Our good, kind, wise Odin-like brother had researched with his sweet, lovely wife, who was Frigg-like as well. In case you don’t know your Norse Gods they are the equivalent of Zeus and Hera. Anyway, they procured through bookish research the traditional recipe (is there any other kind, really?), and the ‘how to’ and the ‘should nots’ and the better ‘must haves’.
They were awesome students and by the time my family of Vikings and myself, showed up on their doorstep one fine December day, they were organized for success! Before us in their humble yet fab kitchen, on their workspace countertop, was a linear display of embroidered bakers’ aprons. There was one for each of us; embroidered with our family crest (NO- just kidding)- our family NAME, the year 2009 and a nifty figure of a rolling pin. We had all been bestowed our own personal lefse rolling pins, ricers, supply of lefse boards, and a few other necessary accoutrements. It was a presentation that won my heart from the start!
Once the proverbial coffee was served to get us going
(a requirement especially for the Swedishness in all of us), we set out to pay strict attention to our Lord Lefse give his morning spiel. Granted, some in the bunch were still working on waking up, and it occurred to me those still clinging to the Northern Lights dreamscape, must have had their drakkar riding on cruise control. Now to my left, was another brother extraordinaire, who embraced his Norwegianness so much so, that he had named his son a Norwegian name and chose a good bulk of his life to live by sea or mountain. I noted his vim and vigor for our tasks at hand, and his quite typical habit of trying to knock the chief off his game. Well, the verbal cleverness was fun, but “no can do”, our Head Honcho had everything under control. Well… ALMOST everything. But more of that to be revealed…
Situated to my right was my big sister, primed for the prize!
(No this wasn’t a contest), well, it kind of, sort of, always does become one cacophonous, rivalrous affair when we siblings assemble. But, she already is a fantastic baker whom among other things, stands way taller than me, and makes the wearing of jeans, a white t shirt and an apron look stylish! As the superb scholar she has proven to be, she listened astutely to our brother’s directions. Thus, there we were, all fired up like Thor’s Thunderbolt, poised and aimed to make our mark in homespun history; our lightning bolts darted toward perfection!
Our Master Lefse Chef engaged us in a variety of toilsome work…
But initially, Odin and Frigg had broken the morning sunrise with their own self-appointed, grueling task of peeling ten pounds of potatoes!! When you have a HUGE family, you need LOTZA LEFSA! About 160 count to be exact. They really were the workers whom as the warm orb greeted the day, slaved over such a gargantuan chore. Then, they chopped and boiled those potatoes to have them still piping hot and ready for us, The timing was coordinated with our fleet of “Viking ships” arrival and the always necessary jubilant kisses and hefty bear hugs. As the figurative trumpet lur sounded, we knew this was our introduction to the art of lefse making. As invited guests, we sipped on Odin’s favorite morning beverage: his Kona Coffee stash! Yes, his “ship” has sailed to Kaui, and brought back the much loved tropical beans he generously shared with his fellow bror and systers. And those potatoes were hot, but not too hot, for our novice hands…
Such joy can only last so long.
This is because the first step for us, the “galley bakers crew,” involved mega muscle strength while compressing the kneaded, boiled potatoes into the ricer. It was laborious work, because, it isn’t as easy as it looks. But my siblings were handling the ricing just fine. Suddenly, everyone stopped what they were doing to watch (ME) wrestle with the ricing contraption. My face must have looked beet red and I hate to think what my determined facial expressions resembled. One who was frustrated to the max? In pained constipation? Crazed to do or die? However, I muscled through that task and felt I had channeled the brute strength of my ancestral bakers. Once the athletics were over, we were about to begin the next step. But not without more sips of rich, robust coffee, of course!
Well, my goodness, did I fall in love or WHAT!
We had bowls brimming with boiled and riced potatoes and all we had to do was add salt, powdered sugar and butter chunks. We then kneaded the potatoes into a supple-like potatoey dough. I found this little task unusually pleasurable! I mean… there it was for the tactile taking… warm, buttery, creamy cloudettes of taters, simply there to be scrunched and folded and squished. I felt like a kindergartener discovering playdo for the first time, but this was a lot nicer!
Our illustrious “Leder Bagare” stood at his kitchen “lectern”
and showed us his obvious prowess in baking! He grabbed a smooth rolling pin and placed the dough from one of our bowls onto the kitchen counter. He proceeded to press down and with his hands rolled a long log. Naturally we siblings, tried to outdo each other’s perfectly formed log. “WA-wuh…” 😳🤨 But, my older sister is the only one who came close to our instructor’s example. The rest of ours resembled eels and snakes. Far from professional, it was very important to have the cylindrical shape even-sized throughout. This is because the logs needed to be cut into 1/3rd cup sizes and then rolled into walnut size balls.
Frigg was busy divvying up workspace all over the kitchen for each of us, replete with an open bag of flour within reach, a regular rolling pin, a smooth tapering rolling pin and a gridded rolling pin. Everyone needed about three feet width of room in which to do the rolling. As always, some family members haggled over who got what space, but I was quite content in my nook that gave me ample room. It took about 15 minutes of joking around to get this endeavor started; I think because we all kind of knew we were now in the thick of it! Odin delegated the work to commence and challenged us to see how quickly we could line up neat, hand fashioned, golf-ball size balls using-up all our own dough-first! Frigg in her festive, felicitous demeanor put on some classic Christmas music and we were sent into motion. Hips and toes swayed and tapped, just a tad, in our designated corners, and jocularity was rampant, “By Jupiter!”
It soon became apparent who was taking longer and who had the skills of a pro. Odin the Leder Bagare, kept facilitating the industry taking place, being extreeeeeeeemely picky about the even size of each ball rolled with our hands and placed in countable rows. “Don’t forget, many mouths to feed!“ he in instigated. Brother All Things Norwegian, continued trying to steer our “slave ship” off course with his jibes and innuendos. However, we played along and ultimately, the undertaking was a reflection of teamwork we were all proud to be a part of. Once All Hands on Deck finished rolling, it was time for — you guessed it! More kaffee☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️, plus a few nuts for nibbling nourishment, kipper snacks for protein kick and tangerines to add that sweet note.
Rejuvenated, now came the REAL FUN!
Our Professor Potato Head ..(truly an affectionate nickname applicable only to this story), was poised to reveal his next level of pro-baking skill. He showed us how to use a smooth rolling pin to roll one ball onto a lefse board: floured on top, and underneath. It is not a piece of wood at all, only a stiff, canvas-type cloth. The goal is to squash down the ball with the rolling pin and make a circle about 12-14“ diameter. His masterful demonstration showed how re-angling each roll of the pin: ⬆️↖️ ⬆️↗️ ⬆️↖️ ⬆️↗️, was supposed to create a 14 inch circle. UNFORTUNATELY, when we all gave it a try, weeeellllll, we weren’t quite so proficient. The giggles started bubbling forth and for me, I felt a mixture of exasperation and embarrassment. My first ever created lefse clearly was the shape of the continent of Africa! I suspected my sosken (Norwegian for siblings), were garnering the same results.
Not surprisingly though, our All Things Norwegian brother managed to pull off a perfect lefse just as his Norsky-named son did years later!!! “Nice-uh, and-uh, oh, so Rrrrround-uh!” Ahem, that sounded more Italiano. Not nearly Vikingish. Anyhooo—he did an excellent job. Odin and Frigg were beaming with approval.
Before you knew it,
we were all in a synchrony of sorts, dusting flour on pins, and boards, determined to ride the waves of a baking arts adventure! We learned many details along the way:
1.) Our chunky smooth rolling pins need a cloth sleeve slipped over them. (Odin called them socks) 😳!! I hope they weren’t really🧦🧦s ! More importantly, they must be kept dusted with flour.
2.) We learned that after rolling the ball into a flat circle, then the other heavier, gridded rolling pin is supposed to be rolled from bottom to top, slowly creating a tiny pattern as well as making the lefse thinner. It is best to keep this pin not moist in any way and to avoid getting flour in its grooves.
3.) The third pin is actually a smooth rounded stick that is tapered on both ends. It is the tool one uses to roll and lift the lefse off the board to be transferred over to the griddle. It, too, must be kept dry with a good dusting of flour powder. Some use a flat or rectangular lefse stick that is long, narrow and flat on all sides.)
4.) In order to pick up the lefse one has to flatten it into a crepe-like consistency. Thin in depth, it looks like lace and should not be thick as a tortilla. It is in actuality, flatbread! As long as the lefse board has remained floured, grasping it at the bottom edge with the slender pin pressed down, at midway point, press that edge. Immediately after applying pressure, make a quick, slight lift so you can catch the smoothed out dough onto the pin and roll it like a horizontal crank. Gentle, quick turning of one’s fingertips in doing so, is all that is required. In last year’s lefse making gathering, a most adept niece proved to me how she had made this technique her art-form!
5.) Once the lefse has been rolled with about six inches remaining hanging from the horizontally held pin, (stick), your job is to be swift and graceful as a ballerina or a very refined waiter. For you must get the delicate lefse over to the griddle before the hanging portion decides to break off due to gravity. Too much lefse rolled onto the pin creates moisture and it won’t roll out onto the griddle as well because of stickiness. Timing is everything!
Our dear Goddess Frigg kept an eagle eye on the operations.
She stood at her griddle station, with two hot iron griddles set over her stovetop burners. Her work space had Tupperware lined with paper towels as a way to instantly stack and keep flat each lefse. Her only utensil at hand was a flat spatula in which to lift the finished product off of the griddle and scoop remaining burned bits into a corner creating room for the next incoming Lefse. Her eagle eye was quick to zoom in on any of our technical troubles in the works. Being a good mentor, she called out advice and many “heed this” and “heed that”s. Amazingly, like the majestic bird’s head, she could swivel her attention from one of us rolling, pressing, flouring, to another engaged baker rolling pressing and flouring and still nan griddle duty. Her twinkly voice made our slip-ups, which were aplenty, easier to deal with and bolstered us away from discouragement. Every Christmas I am impressed by her rapid thinking and her nurturing manner in this process.
The tutelage of the Norse Gods of Lefse
was a time of great joy and discovery. We had Odin barking strict orders, making side demonstrations with one tutee after another, and Frigg frying’ up the bacon (NOT)— the Lefse, I mean! That Viking home above the sea was alive with music, laughter, cajoling, and very, very busy hands. There was sneaky switching of dough balls from one station to another going on, while one of us was rolling our just made lefse onto the piping hot griddle. This way, one would look as if one were further ahead in the production race than the other bakers. We did figure out the culprit and dealt with the crime accordingly- probably having that scamp wait to receive the initial taste of lefse after the rest of us. And that would feel like torture!
We were a factory working so hard the rafters were bouncing off the eaves. Christmas glee was abundant, and it didn’t take much for creative humor to manifest. Many “ooos” and “ahhhhs”, and “Only 15 more to go!” comprised conversation. Then you would hear another say, “How did you get ahead of me?” You could hear “Oh darn”, “Not again!” “Whoops”, “Oh man, it broke!” and especially “My lefse board is now officially ruined!!! WAAAA!” Dramatics, yes, but honest ones! We churned out lefse after lefse, like a rotating wheel on a locomotive train; the wheels of progress lubricated by the elbow grease expended. And it was well worth it.
Sometimes, we had to stop and just belt out a hearty laugh, especially the occasion that once again, put ME, in the center of attention. SOMEBODY, happened to notice on the floor, below my work station, were piles and piles of flour! Underneath was a snowstorm of the soft white stuff most crucial to the success to mak ing our beloved lefse. Razzing ensued: “What were you doing? Were you conducting “The Ride of the Valkries” with your lefse stick?” The hilarious as it was, I had no idea HOW my flour got onto the floor!🤷♀️Seriously!💁♀️If, there had been mice in that kitchen, they could have had loads of fun snowshoeing or skiing through the “snowbanks” of flour! I’m sure my look of innocent quandary was perhaps the most comical thing. A self-made story to endure the ages of family folklore. Well, The Master Chefs and their underlings had a good round of jeering, and it was all in the name of sibling impishness. I, in turn started naming the lefse shapes: There was Elvis, Connecticut, Half Dome, Sponge Bob, Nemo, Dory, Saturn, and Humpty Dumpty! We duty driven adults were immersed into another world, leaving behind normal things, letting ourselves surrender to innocuous banter and rich imagination. Christmas had arrived early, a day before before the 25th..
After five plus hours, Thor’s hammer was done.
All thunderbolts thrown,
All good cheer brightened,
All poking fun packed away,
All competition come to an end.
Our omniscient, generous hosts gave us replenishment for the final time, yes, you guessed it-COFFEE.
With that coffee came the little miracle that occurs around Scandinavian tables far and wide, a coming together of brotherliness, sisterliness and family, We slathered our warm lefses in butter, or sprinkled white sugar blended with cinnamon on the top of them. We popped those divine delights into our mouths faster than you can say Leif Eriksson, Sven Forkbeard, Erik the Red, or Olav Tryggvasson!
All in the day in the life of a Norwegian-Swedish Viking… our job fulfilled, our bellies happy and our hearts full. We bade farewell till Clan Christmas morrow, and our individual knorrs, knarrs and drakkars sailed homeward. I’m positive Odin and Frigg savored a suspended moment of peace on their deck that late afternoon. As they watched the Pacific sun set into the cobalt ocean, they sipped on mead, ate fresh grapes and had some more Lefse….