When around 350 diners flock to the Sons of Norway’s annual lutefisk dinner on Sunday in Aberdeen, they will also be in search of potato lefse, a variation of Norwegian flatbread is essential to the festive meal.
The Grays Harbor Lodge, which is more than 100 years old and the third oldest in the state, was alive with preparations last week. They are making dozens upons dozens of lefse (the second “e” sounds like a short “a”), a thin tortilla-like creation, is a popular side at meals, Lodge Prseident Dixie Thompson said.
So many families of Scandinavian descent descend on the Harbor that the hall schedules three seatings: at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thompson, Ladies Auxiliary President Ella Seely and lefse-making manager Glendora Dillon want to be ready, so with help from members, they start making hundreds of the flatbread weeks ahead of time.
The tables are raised on bed posts so the 16 present, 15 women plus Seely’s husband Truman, don’t strain their backs while preparing for the feast. They laugh and talk while they work in an assembly line atop tables and counters around the lodge kitchen. They give each other good-natured grief when one end or another of the line breaks down and slows production.
Essentially, lefse is flour and milk or cream, cooked on a griddle. The local recipe also includes potato.This local version is a modified one most likely brought west from Minnesota and the Dakotas, Seely said. The addition of spuds can make the dough easier to roll out.
Rather than use peeled, boiled potatoes put through a ricer in the old fashioned way, they use instant mashed potato mix and adapt it to the recipe, using less liquid. Milk or water and butter binds the dough. Sylvia Carty works the mix with a pastry cutter to form the dough and then press it into a log-shape. Sue Swantek and Seely help cut into slices and roll into balls.
“All of us have little jobs. Some people are rollers, some are turners and some are mixers,” said Thompson. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Thompson is one of the ones rolling the ball out into a whisper-thin lefse on a round pastry board covered with canvas. The rolling pin is distinctive with its narrow ribs that are covered by what some call a sock, others a sweater. The combination makes it easier for the rolling pin to get traction and roll the dough even thinner.
Once the dough is rolled out, the lefse is picked up on a wooden turning stick and slipped onto an iron, which is a round electric griddle coated with Teflon instead of oil. Several women, including Haldis Totland, Carla Johnson and her mother Doreen Parker, watch the lefse carefully.
“You only turn it once, otherwise it gets tough,” said Esther Cummings.
Ginger Moline says she has been making lefse with many of these women for more than 20 years.
There are many variations of lefse, says Norwegian and longtime Harborite, Seely, who often dresses in native costume at hall festivities. She takes a piece lathered in butter and margarine, then adds a sweet touch with a mix of sugar and cinnamon. Cinnamon is a more modern addition, she said.
Lefse is now mainly prepared only at holidays and special family gatherings even in Norway, a practice that started in the 1950s.
“We are in a kind of a time capsule,” Seely said.
Because Norway is a long, skinny country filled with hard-to-reach valleys, each community developed its own traditions, Seely said. She remembers a “lefsekling” her grandmother made with sour cream and buttermilk.
“No potatoes in the flour,” she adds.
As a granddaughter, Thompson remembers her family’s “lefsehardanger” which is a sweeter lefse that is often served as a dessert with coffee, or milk for the children, not as a side to a meal. “It’s more like a pastry,” she said, “a real treat.”
People come from as far away as Shelton and Tacoma to dine. Dillon, a Harbor native, returns from Olympia to help with preparations.
“Many people tell us that our dinner is the best” of those served at all the lodges’ lutefisk dinners, Thompson said.
Lutefisk is a reconstituted dried white fish, usually cod, that is served with butter or a cream sauce with allspice at Christmas time. Robert Reime, who works for the PUD, gets “top-notch lutefisk” from Port Townsend, Thompson said. It is served at the table with a choice of an all-spice cream sauce or butter. His 93-year-old mother, Agnes Reime, who is from Norway, carefully lathers the lefse with a butter and margarine mix, then precisely folds each one into a rectangle that will join a huge stack in the freezer.
Besides lutefisk and lefse, meatballs, coleslaw, cooked sweet carrots and boiled potatoes are also on the menu. For sweet tooths, an array of Scandinavian cookies such as rosettes, Krumkake and other goodies such as “sirup snipper” a sweet cookie made with spices and pepper, are the next project for the corps of cooks.
The dinner is served family-style. Men dressed in white shirts with a red vest will serve tables for eight, each carrying a different platter or bowl.
“They look kind of neat, all marching out to one table after another,” said Thompson.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: DW_Erin
Seatings are at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24. For tickets, which are $20 each, please call Dixie Thompson at 360-533-2827 or Leif Tangvald at 360-533-1027. Sons of Norway Hall is located at 717 Randall St.