In addition to decorating mountains of gingerbread and sugar cookies, a beloved Christmas tradition in my family was eating lefse on Christmas Eve. My Norwegian Great Grandmother would cook the thin potato pancakes every year in her tiny apartment on a piping hot griddle. As soon as the pancake was golden and toasted, we would slather on some salty butter and sprinkle a bit of crunchy sugar.
Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life with Potatoes in a Yellow Dish, 1888
oil on canvas, 39 x 47 cm, Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum
I am so particularly fond of this dish that I searched for it on the every restaurant menu I passed while travelling in Oslo. Later I found out that the dish, as I know it, is enjoyed by Norwegian-Americans living in the Midwest United States.
Although Still Life with Potatoes in a Yellow Dish was created during Van Gogh's time in Arles, he abandoned the vivid colour that dominated the works from this period and instead returned to the sombre earth tone palette found in his earlier paintings. The lumpy potatoes are aesthetically similar to the lumpy peasants he painted several years earlier in The Potato Eaters. Traditionally the potato was used to represent poverty and was commonly found in 19th century still life paintings. When potatoes were first introduced to Europe in the 16th century they were predominantly used to feed cattle and often were the source of poisonings when the stems and leaves where inadvertently eaten.
makes a dozen medium size pancakes
3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered 3 tablespoons milk 1/2 stick of butter 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup flour
Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in a pot of boiling water and cook until tender. Drain and mash well until smooth. Place mashed potatoes in freezer until cooled.
Melt the butter and add the milk, sugar, and salt. Mix well and add to the chilled potatoes. Stir well and add flour until a thick dough is formed similar to a pie crust. On a very well floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out egg sized portions of the dough into very thin pancakes.
Place a griddle or frying pan on high heat but do not add any butter or oil. Place the pancake on the dry pan and cook for about one minute until golden spots appear. Flip and cook the other side for an additional minute. Continue this process with the rest of the dough.
Serve with butter and a sprinkling of sugar (also nice with a bit of cinnamon). Roll into a log and eat immediately.