More than a century after Scandinavians settled the Camrose area, Nordic culture remains an influence on this charming central Alberta city. It’s especially pronounced at The Lefse House, a must-visit local business that’s part bustling lunch spot, part gift gallery, and part coffee shop and bakery.
Bernell Odegard bought the business 16 years ago, and runs it alongside his wife Linda, a retired teacher, and daughter Jane Beck, who was finishing up business school just as her dad made the purchase.
Over the years, the family has transformed The Lefse House into a welcoming and wonderful one-stop shop for all things Scandinavian. Inside, you can enjoy an authentic Scandinavian meal at the restaurant, purchase your own baking equipment and get helpful hints from staff for making Scandinavian sweets, or buy tasty treats to take home.
“People come in and say, ‘Oh, it smells just like grandma’s kitchen,’ ” says Odegard, who is of Norwegian heritage. “This is a way for people to hold on to their culture, through that sense of smell and taste.”
While some of The Lefse House’s customers are of Scandinavian descent and seeking traditional comfort food, other visitors come to learn about the culture and Camrose’s history. No matter what brings you inside, Odegard is a warm, generous and knowledgeable host whose first mission is to teach you about the business’ namesake: lefse.
Lefse is a thin and soft flatbread that’s particularly popular in Norway around Christmas. Its main ingredients are potatoes and flour, then it’s cooked on a hot grill. Sounds simple, right? Not quite. A big window inside The Lefse House gives you a great view of the action inside the kitchen, where you’ll find yourself mesmerized watching staff complete the exacting and labour-intensive process.
Once lefse has been made, there are varying opinions about the best way to eat it, says Odegard. While he prefers his lefse spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar, then rolled up tightly, his wife’s family grew up using only butter as a topping. For others, butter, sugar and cinnamon are the norm.
Try classic lefse at The Lefse House or break from tradition and enjoy a hearty lefse wrap for lunch, filled with chicken, roast beef, egg salad, or bean salad. You can even buy lefse herb chips to snack on later.
A visit to The Lefse House isn’t complete without sampling Scandinavian sweets. Popular items include fattigmann (a traditional deep-fried Christmas cookie, made with heavy cream and cardamom), sandbakkles (a flaky pastry shell filled with homemade lemon butter and whipped cream) and lingonberry chocolate puffs (an in-house creation combining the tartness of the lingonberry with the sweetness of chocolate).
Some of The Lefse House’s products are available in grocery stores across Alberta year-round, and Beck says health conscious consumers are increasingly taking notice of lefse this way. They’re using it as an alternative to tortillas, enjoying a delicious food made from all-natural ingredients with no additives.
The Lefse House also ships lefse to addresses throughout Canada, a side of the business that ramps up every December. After all, for many people of Norwegian descent — including Beck — Christmas just isn’t Christmas without lefse. (As a youngster, Beck says she always knew it was Christmas time when “the flour started flying.”)
Just as Beck has her own fond childhood memories of making and eating lefse, many customers do too. She loves the stories that people share with her when they buy lefse.
“We hear about why they’re buying it, or how their grandma used to make it,” she says. “People aren’t just purchasing a product. There’s a whole history and story to it.”
For Odegard, The Lefse House is more than just a local business. In many ways, it’s become a lifeline to the past. “We feel the pressure of carrying on the culture,” Odegard says. “We feel a sense of pride in what we’re producing, and we feel good about providing quality to people.”