Whether you call it lefse or potato cakes, this traditional originating in Norway, spread thick with butter and sprinkled with sugar, is a treat that has long been a tradition in many Northeast Iowa families.
With names like Quass and Osmundson a part of my heritage, it's understood that some of my ancestors made their way to America from Stavanger, Norway. Packed in their travel trunks were lefse rolling pins and maybe a cookbook or two, although it's likely they knew how to make lefse by memory. Although many of those men and women are now buried in the cemetery of First Lutheran Church, rural Ossian, my cousins and I continue to be proud of their determination to build a new life in a foreign land. That, and perhaps more importantly, we envy their skill at creating such delicious flat breads and pastries!
As young children, we longed for Christmas when Grandma Mildred (Osmundson) Pape was sure to make potato cakes, krumkake and fladbrod. (No lutefisk for us, please!) For the first decades of our lives, we were satisfied to simply revel in the tradition and eat to our hearts content. But with the arrival of the 21st century, our grandmother now gone and two of her daughters as well, we the cousins realized it would be worthwhile to learn to make lefse, fladbrod and krumkake so the traditions of our Norwegian heritage will continue.
One winter day we gathered in the kitchen of our grandmother's only living daughter, ready to absorb all that she could share.
Like sponges we listened to Aunt Kate describe how to mix the dough and roll it out thin with a special rolling pin on a board covered with a pastry cloth. And we laughed as her stories included tales of our parents, (her siblings) and how they would sneak into an upstairs bedroom where the fladbrod (also pronounced flat bread) was hidden in containers, awaiting the arrival of holiday company.
Several hours later, the fladbrod and lefse satisfactorily packed into containers, and our sides aching from laughter, we did what any good Norwegian would do – gathered at the time for a little lunch and a cup of coffee. Great Grandma Gertina Quass, and Grandma Mildred: we may not have the art perfected quite yet, but we're ready to practice again soon until we get it right.
And before we left our aunt's home, we promised to return for a lesson in using the krumkake iron. Fun for another day.