RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For many Norwegian-American families, Christmas time means lesfe. These are flatbread sort of like a soft tortilla made mostly out of mashed potatoes. They're usually spread with butter and sugar. And families make them by the dozens.
From Portland, Oregon, Deena Prichep reports on how a simple little food can mean so very much.
DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Most little kids look forward to Christmas candy and chocolate. Megan Walhood looked forward to Christmas lefse.
MEGAN WALHOOD: It's probably one of the first foods that I fell in love with.
PRICHEP: That's a pretty strong reaction for what is, essentially, a pretty basic food.
M. WALHOOD: The rest of the year, I would just think about when are we going to have lefse again.
PRICHEP: It's comfort. And for the Walhood family, that comfort goes way back.
DALE WALHOOD: Well, on my father's side of the family, lefse arrived in 1825 for the opening of the Erie Canal.
PRICHEP: Dale Walhood, Megan's dad, grew up in North Dakota with lots of lefse.
D. WALHOOD: Weddings and funerals and christenings and anything that smacked of a lot of Norwegians there. Yeah. There'd be stacks of it.
PRICHEP: These days, lefse is pretty much reserved for Christmas. And, as with many simple foods, it all comes down to technique. Megan and her parents, Dale and Peggy, gather around an old electric griddle to show how it's done.
M. WALHOOD: You want to roll it thin enough and also even. Like, you don't want to have a fat edge and a skinny edge, which are not the ideal. They're not approved by the 'Lefse Commission.'
PRICHEP: There's even an art to shimmying a long, flat stick beneath the dough to transfer it to the griddle.
M. WALHOOD: So you have to slide the stick under really gently so you don't tear it.
PRICHEP: Then brushing off the extra flour when the lefse is cooking to keep it tender.
M. WALHOOD: Did you guys used to do that?
D. WALHOOD: Yeah.
M. WALHOOD: OK.
PEGGY WALHOOD: Flower would be everywhere.
D. WALHOOD: It was about a six-hour vacuum job.
PRICHEP: And then, of course, spreading it with butter and sugar.
D. WALHOOD: I don't know if that's too much but...
PRICHEP: There's no such thing as too much butter.
Carrying on the lefse tradition is especially poignant this year. Dale Walhood was diagnosed with cancer this spring.
P. WALHOOD: We're all pretty excited that we get to have this Christmas. Get to go get a tree.
M. WALHOOD: Yeah. We weren't sure we were going to get this Christmas.
PRICHEP: And Megan's lefse won't just be on the Walhood's Christmas table. A few years back, she and her husband Jeremy opened a business called Viking Soul Food. The entire menu is based around Dale's lefse.
D. WALHOOD: I'm incredibly proud of her; her sensitivity and her dedication to, you know, quality. And I'm one of seven children. So they all look to her for their lefse.
JEREMY DANIELS: Go give your father a hug. I'll do the lefse.
PRICHEP: Viking Soul Food will turn about 250 pounds of potatoes into lefse this week, enough to make memories on dozens of Christmas tables. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep.
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