It was around 7:30 one morning last week that I found myself standing at the kitchen island in my pajamas, covered in flour, close to tears.

I’m not an avid baker. I don’t even like to cook. But I do have a penchant for holiday cookies and seasonal baking. And I love family traditions.

When my youngest child’s preschool had its annual international festival this month to celebrate the various different backgrounds and heritages represented at the school, I decided to sign up for a Norway booth and make some of the Scandinavian delicacies I was raised with around the holidays: specifically lefse, which is somewhat like a tortilla, only thinner and made of potatoes. Lefse is usually covered in butter, white or brown sugar, and cinnamon, then folded and rolled and served with the meal as a bread. In modern-day Norway, Norwegians sometimes even use lefse as a hot dog bun.

I inherited my great-grandmother Engelstad’s lefse stick, as well as her lefse rolling pin. Several years ago, when I first made lefse from scratch, I ordered a VHS instructional tape on how to make lefse, as well as a special canvas for which to roll out the dough. My husband, who was just my fiancé at the time, helped me with the potatoes, rolling the dough out as flat as we could. At the time, we both ended up covered in flour, and the lefse more resembled fat, burned pancakes than any kind of thin tortilla.

I should have learned my lesson the first time around.

This year, I thought I’d be more prepared. I ordered a ready-made lefse mix from the bakery in Minnesota where my mother orders her premade lefse for the holidays each year. Making the mix went fine. I let it cool overnight, then started patiently rolling out the dough, only it stuck to everything. It stuck to the rolling pins, the lefse stick, my island, the lefse canvas - I even had the dough in my hair.

I finally gave up when I started placing the dough directly on the skillet and trying to press it as flat as I could with my hands before the dough got hot. Again, I ended up with thick, rubbery pancakes - not something any preschooler would likely eat, even if coated in butter and sugar.

And so I did something that would likely cause my great-grandmother to roll over in her grave: I bought three packs of flour tortillas at the grocery store, slathered them in butter, sugar and cinnamon, rolled them up and called them lefse. I was defeated, exhausted, and ready to be done - but I realized that no one, especially a group of preschoolers, would be able to tell the difference between authentic potato lefse and a flour tortilla from Target.

I called my grandmother, half flustered, half laughing, to tell her about my switch.

I asked her what she thought Great-Grandma Engelstad would say about the switch. My grandmother, who is 88, just laughed.

“I don’t think she would mind,” my grandmother said. “She would probably laugh. Why do you think I never make lefse?”

My great-grandmother tried to teach her, even passed down the lefse sticks to her. But my grandmother never could get the dough thin enough. And she passed the lefse sticks down to me.

In the end, the kids at the festival loved the “tortilla lefse” and no one was the wiser. I’m going to keep the lefse sticks, though, which are probably a century old. Maybe one day, I’ll learn to perfect the art - or else pass down the sticks to the next generation.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.