I was 35 years-old when I first heard the word, Lefse. It was to be served at a church fund-raising dinner, along with something called Lutefisk. There were also Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and milk gravy. The line for the meal extended out of the dining room, into the foyer, and spilled out into the church parking lot. I was reassured more than once, that the hour-long wait was worth it. Meanwhile, assorted aromas teased and taunted me.
Once inside the dining room, folks were seated and served family-style. I was willing to sample it all. Lutefisk was both an interesting looking and tasting food. I also learned that it was controversial. Either folks said they loved it or they hated it. The ones that hated it, called it fish Jello. And I had to admit that fish Jello seemed an adequate description.
Lutefisk is dried fish that has also been preserved in lye. Then it’s reconstituted by boiling it in water. Afterwards, it’s served with butter. When served, it looks like a square of cloudy-white gelatin. Truly, Lutefisk is a centuries-old survival food. Honestly, I didn’t hate it. But, as much as I love fish, I didn’t ask for seconds. And I decided that a love of Lutefisk must begin as a child or during extreme hunger. Neither of which, applied to me.
Lefse was a different story. I immediately fell in love with it. Lefse was the missing link in my love of assorted breads. Only, I never knew it, until then. Sure, it looks like a homemade tortilla, but it has a different flavor and texture. Since it’s often made with potatoes, it can taste like potato bread. And if the right person makes it, it’s thinner than paper, soft, and light; even “lacy”. Some folks eat it plain. Some prefer to add butter. Others add lingonberries, jam, or sugar. But, regardless of how it’s eaten, Lefse is time consuming to make. It’s truly a labor of love.
Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that not everyone who labors makes good Lefse. And as it turns out, bad Lefse is horrible. Imagine the worst tortilla in your life. Let it stale and then make it gummy by spritzing it with stagnate water. At the opposite extreme, there is amazing Lefse. It’s rare and like Manna from Heaven, nothing compares to its perfection.
Keith and I are thankful that we can eat amazing Lefse. No, we don’t make it. It’s made by someone else’s very talented and beautiful hands. Someone’s hands who care for a husband, children, and grandchildren. Someone’s hands who tend delicate seedlings, fragile chicks, and the most stubborn bulls. And someone’s hands who helped heal a community, for decades. Yes, Keith’s mom makes the best Lefse; hands-down!