Lefsa looks like the Norwegian version of the tortilla. Instead of corn meal, potatoes are the main ingredients. By December, last summer’s potatoes are all wrinkled and rubbery with sprouts growing out of their eyes and look like they should have been thrown into the compost pile a month ago. These are lefsa potatoes.
I spent much of my childhood with Norwegian relatives and recollections of my Grandma Anna’s lefsa make my taste buds dance! I suppose it’s odd that something so bland and common would arouse such fond memories. For me, enjoying lefsa in grandma’s kitchen was the sensorial blend of my favorite food harmonized with the aromas of wood smoke from the old cook stove mingled with my grandpa’s pipe tobacco – an experience of unforgettable warmth and comfort.
One winter when I was about seven or eight, my family made the trip to southeastern Minnesota to visit the Norwegian side of my family. We joined all our relatives at my Aunt Martha and Uncle Alvin’s home on their farm near Mable, Minnesota. It was late afternoon at sunset when we arrived. It had snowed the day before so the pine trees along their driveway were laden with snow that sparkled in the last rays of sunshine. The scene is etched in my memory.
As we all piled out of our ’49 Buick, another family of cousins arrived and we all trooped into the old foursquare house. Heavenly fragrance invaded our senses! This was a “modern” house with a coal furnace but my uncle lit the wood stove in the parlor for enhanced coziness. The smell of wood smoke mingled with mouth-watering food welcomed us as we all tumbled in stomping snow off our boots and pulling off our coats that were stowed in a downstairs bedroom.
Aromas from the kitchen made our empty tummies leap with anticipation. We relished the odors of Swedish meatballs and gravy, mashed potatoes; garden vegetables canned that summer, fresh rolls and – you guessed it – lutefisk! We kids called it stinky fish.
But, for me, the star of the show was the lefsa. My cousin Ingrid and I always sat together at our family gatherings. Since she liked lefsa almost as much as me, we made sure a heaping plate was close by. Any time Norwegians gather for a social event, lefsa is a staple. I ate until I couldn’t take another bite! Incidentally, all through my childhood, I was tall and spare. Lots of lefsa didn’t change that.
Good food and family made good memories that night. After dinner, Uncle Alvin played his fiddle. Cousin Merv joined him on his accordion. We all sang songs and laughed long into the night.
Then, as the adults took their coffee into the parlor to catch up on life, we youngsters gathered in the bedroom to crawl up on the bed and burrow into the piles of coats to tell scary stories. Eventually, the drone of conversation from the parlor lulled us into happy sleep.
Shirley Schmidt is a long-time contributor to the Pine City Pioneer. and a member of the Pine Writers group in Pine City.
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