A Norwegian Legacy at Christmas

More than just a neighbor, she was a guardian angel who shared an unforgettable recipe.

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Posted in , Nov 6, 2012

Dora Aandedur teaches her grandkids to make lefse.

I had a secret wish the Christmas I was five. Please, God, let this year be different. No more yelling or hitting. Wasn’t Christmas supposed to be about peace, joy and love? But it wasn’t to be. My father ruled the house with his temper and fists.

I found an escape, though, right next door. A tall hedge divided our backyard from our neighbor Mrs. Wold’s.

One day I discovered a break in the hedge just big enough for me to slip through. So I did. (Only years later did it occur to me that the break in the otherwise immaculately trimmed hedge mysteriously grew at the same pace I did.)

Mrs. Wold was a widow with no children yet she welcomed me as if I were her own. Well, her own grandchild, since she was 75 years older than me, to the day. Soon I was spending more time at her house than mine.

We’d sit in her living room, Mrs. Wold working a crossword while I practiced my reading and penmanship. When it got warmer, we’d sit in the yard and watch a woodpecker circle the big walnut tree, pecking bugs out of the bark.

She’d tell me about birds and flowers and the bakery she once owned on Main Street in Brookings, South Dakota. I could just imagine people standing in line because nothing tasted better than the cookies she made me every Monday.

Unless it was the holiday treat she introduced me to. One December day I slipped through the hedge and into Mrs. Wold’s house. There on a plate in her kitchen was a food I’d never seen before—sort of like a pancake but much thinner. “What’s that?”

“This here is lefse,” Mrs. Wold said.

“Lef-what?”

“Lefse. A Norwegian flatbread,” she said. “I’m English but I learned to make it from some Norwegian friends at church. It’s made with potatoes, milk and butter. Try it.” She spread butter on the bread, sprinkled it with sugar, rolled it up and handed it to me.

Mmm, even better than her cookies! That was how lefse came to mean Christmas for me. Mrs. Wold let me be her assistant and showed me how to roll out the dough using her special wooden rolling pin and canvas mat.

When I was 12, we moved away. Mrs. Wold went into a nursing home. Our visits dwindled to a few times a year. I missed my friend and thought of her often.

She thought of me too. One day when I was in high school, she had someone drop off a gift for me: her rolling pin and mat.

The timing was perfect. I’d just started dating a boy named Gary Aanderud, who, being of Norwegian heritage, loved all things Norske. Especially lefse. But he didn’t know how to make it.

I went to the nursing home to thank Mrs. Wold for her gift and ask her for her recipe. “That, dear, is something you must figure out on your own,” she said. “It will make your lefse even better.”

I got to work, trying to recall those Christmas sessions in Mrs. Wold’s kitchen. Gary was my assistant. I don’t know how many batches we made! Time and again we’d bring the finished product to the nursing home only to have Mrs. Wold take one bite and set it back on the plate.

Finally we got it right. “Now that is some fine lefse!” Mrs. Wold declared, polishing off the whole piece.

That was how lefse came to be our family’s holiday tradition, one Gary and I and our kids shared with Mrs. Wold until she passed away at the age of 98.

Now it’s a tradition I share with my grandkids. Every Christmas I pull out the old rolling pin and mat and tell them the story of the real-life angel who gave me my first taste of lefse and so much more, an answer to a little girl’s prayer.

Peace, joy and love weren’t just a part of Christmas with Mrs. Wold, they were part of every day I spent with her.

Try Dora's lefse for yourself!

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