May 172013

The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17 in the year 1814 when Norway was handed over by Denmark to the Swedish king (not the Swedish government) . The new constitution declared Norway to be an independent nation, but it was soon occupied by Sweden. However, the nation was allowed to retain its own parliament.  Very early on, demonstrations were held on Constitution Day protesting the rule of the Swedish king. So in 1828 king Karl Johan banned all celebration on that day.  The following year by one of those odd historical coincidences, the Norwegian steamer Constitutionen, source of much national pride, was due to dock in Christiania (now Oslo) on May 17.  A large crowd gathered to greet the ship and began singing nationalist songs after a college student, Henrik Wergeland, shouted “Long Live the Constitution” (and for which he became a national hero).  They then moved into the main square and remained there all evening.  The police attempted to disperse the crowd with no success, so the cavalry was called out and began attacking the crowd on horseback with the flats of their swords or running them down.  Later the light infantry joined the cavalry and began beating people with their rifles. What became known as The Battle of the Square raised such a furor throughout Norway that the king was forced to cancel his ban.

It was not until 1864, however, that the celebrations took on their current form when a children’s parade of all boys was organized.  (It was not until 1899 that girls were allowed to join the parade.) To this day the main public event in towns across Norway is the children’s parade, partly in honor of Henrik Wergeland who is venerated by Norwegian school children.

Each elementary school district arranges its own parade with marching bands for each school. The parade takes the children through the community, often making stops at homes of senior citizens, war memorials, and other significant locations. The longest parade is in Oslo which includes around 100 schools. It passes the royal palace where the royal family greet the people from the main balcony. Typically a school’s children’s parade consists of some senior school children carrying the school’s official banner, followed by a handful of older children carrying full sized Norwegian flags, and the school’s marching band. After the band, the rest of the school children follow with hand sized flags, usually in order of grades, youngest first. Patriotic speeches begin and end the parades, but there is a complete absence of militarism.

Lefse is a traditional soft, Norwegian flatbread made of potato, cream and flour, and cooked on a special griddle for festive days. Special tools are employed to cook lefse, including long wooden lefse sticks for turning the lefse as they cook, and special rolling pins with deep grooves. There is considerable regional variation in ingredients and cooking methods of lefse, as well as diverse ways of serving it.  It can be eaten spread with butter(or butter and sugar) and rolled up, or sweetened with jelly. Sugar and cinnamon is also common. Of course, it can accompany meat dishes and stews. It is a must when eating lutefisk, the Scandinavian pungent dish of white fish cured in lye.  The recipe I give here makes 100 lefse, but it can easily be cut in halves or quarters.



10 pounds Russet/Burbank or Russet potatoes (only use Russets).
1 pound butter
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
6 cups all purpose flour

Peel, boil, drain, rice, and mash the potatoes. Don’t let the potatoes overcook because they will absorb too much liquid, and water is lefse’s great enemy.

Add the butter, whipping cream, salt and sugar and whip until no lumps remain. Turn into a large bowl, smooth the top and cool, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. This helps the potatoes dry further.

Next day, preheat a lefse grill to 500°F without grease. These grills are round and flat.  A large cast iron skillet makes a reasonable substitute and you can use an oven thermometer to gauge the temperature roughly. You may have to experiment with one or two lefse to get the temperature right. Modern lefse grills are electric with a built in thermostat.

Place a large plastic bag on the counter and lay a kitchen towel on top – you will stack the cooked lefse on one end and fold the towel and plastic over. The towel absorbs moisture; the plastic keeps it just moist enough.

Make a rolling surface out of a cloth-covered pastry board and rub flour well into a sock-covered rolling pin (substitute for a lefse pin), and the rolling surface.

Cut the cold mashed potato mixture into quarters. Place one quarter into a bowl and put the rest back into the refrigerator.

Working with one quarter at a time, mix in 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Using your hands, mix the flour into the potato until it is well blended. Once you add flour to the potatoes, you are committed to that batch of dough. Work quickly because if you let it stand too long it will get soft and sticky. (You can keep the remaining 3 quarters in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 to 48 hours.)

Scoop out a portion about the size of a golf ball and form quickly into a ball. Dust the ball with flour and flatten it.

Place the flattened ball on to the floured, cloth-covered pastry board, and with the floured sock-covered rolling pin, roll the dough out evenly into a large circle about 1/8 inch thickness. It is important to use plenty of flour at first. Wet spots can become a problem. If you do get a wet spot, rub flour into it and scrape it carefully to remove as much of the wet spot as possible.

Using a lefse stick (you can use a long chopstick or the rolling pin), transfer the round onto the heated grill or skillet. The lefse will begin to bubble. Peek at the grilled side until it has light brown spots. Slide the stick under it (or use a spatula) and carefully flip it over.

If the edges of the lefse begin to get dry, brown, and curl, you are grilling them too long. If it is not browning well, but remains light, your grill temperature is too low.

Stack the cooked rounds one on top of the other and cover with the towel and plastic. You’ll need a towel and plastic for each quarter of the dough.

Cool 4 to 5 hours and keep covered until ready to serve. The cooked lefse can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, folded in quarters, 10 at a time, in ziplok bags. They also freeze well.

Yield: about 100 lefse