It's an international twist on the holidays

If you're of Norwegian descent, I know what you're eating this holiday season. Does "lefse," a thin, potato-based flatbread that you roll or fold, sound familiar? We have a freezer full of it this year, and I'm hankering to defrost yet another package.

"Hankering" is not a Norwegian word. True Norwegians, after asking, "Snakker du norsk?" might use the word "begjaer" to communicate their never-to-be-understated desire for lefse. I think that's the right word — my dad is long-deceased and he was always my reference on Norwegian issues of any kind. As an indication of the attraction of this food, I have known lefse lovers to travel hundreds of miles to get their seasonal dosage. Known them? They're related to me.

What about "lutefisk?" I usually describe it as a "wobbly" cod, softened in water and lye. And, yes, it's definitely an acquired taste. But if you had big plates of boiled lutefisk every Christmas throughout your childhood, eating the slippery fish (gingerly at first) while watching your father eat three times as much and tell rambling stories in a thick Norwegian accent, you might have a developed an affection for it, as well.

Maybe you're a rommegrat fan? Some norsk folks salivate over the thought — it's a porridge made from the best sour cream you can find and served with lots of butter, sugar and cinnamon, a recipe you'll never locate in any Weight Watcher's cookbook.

But today I want to talk especially about "krumkake," a paper-thin cylinder of a cookie made with eggs, melted butter, sugar, flour and lots of almond extract. It crumbles delicately when you eat it.

Like all families, ours has specific holiday traditions that should not be broken — making krumkake is one of them. Standing next to the stove with my mother's decades-old krumkake iron on a flaming-gas burner, with my husband wandering by for observational tastings and reminders about fire safety, I recently spent a long morning honoring the family tradition.

I added an international flair by having my Spanish-language CD playing in the background while I worked. By the way, a word for lefse in Spanish is probably akin to "tortilla," but there's no equivalent for krumkake. "Muy bueno" might be one way to think about it.

It takes a big part of any day to make a batch of these delicate cookies because each one is "baked" individually using a krumkake iron that imprints a faint design. If you're doing it alone, it takes excellent eye-hand coordination, easy access to hotpads and lots of cold water to run over burned fingers.

It's like making tiny, tasty, fragile ice cream-like cones, one by one. This year I made just enough to leave on all the neighbor's porches — in festive holiday tins with tightly fitted lids to keep the krumKake fresh.

One neighbor reported a raccoon had opened their container before they got to it and had eaten every morsel. If you see a Norwegian-looking raccoon with krumkake crumbs on its face and you're in a benevolent Christmas spirit, wish him "God Jul." And to you, the same.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or

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