The Family Table: Norwegian Pancakes, a Treat for National Day and Beyond

Readers share their treasured recipes
May 14, 2021 Updated: May 14, 2021

Submitted by Charlotte Christiansen McDonald, Salt Lake City, Utah

As the fourth child of first-generation, American-born Norwegians, my siblings and I do a lot of celebrating with traditional Norwegian foods from both southern and northern Norway, especially during Christmas: lutefisk and boiled potatoes, salmon, rice cream, and a variety of cookies.

The most beloved food, often made by all four generations—my grandparents, my parents, myself, and my children (and now even my grandchildren are learning)—is served at breakfast, though it has been known to also be eaten at dinner, at snack time, or as a dessert. What is this delicious treat? Norwegian pancakes!

Oh, yes, the Swedes like to take credit for the original recipe and call them Swedish pancakes, because they ruled Norway from 1814 to 1905. Norwegians know that the Swedish claim is simply a folk tale, but then again, I have a few Swedish immigrants in my own Norwegian ancestry from that time.

In 1814, Norway was ceded to Sweden by default from Denmark, which ruled Norway up until that time. On May 17, 1814, Norwegians declared themselves independent and signed the Constitution of Norway, but continued to be ruled by Sweden until 1905. They were hindered in their celebrations by Sweden, and thus, they were only truly able to free themselves to wholly have an independent constitution in 1905.

National Day or Constitution Day in Norway is celebrated all day long on May 17, referred to by Norwegians as “Syttende Mai.” School children dress in traditional costumes, carrying flags while parading and singing through the town centers, while proud parents and citizens watch, waving thousands of their own Norwegian flags.

Epoch Times Photo
The author’s mother, Helen Marie Willamsen, age 3, celebrating in her bunad, or traditional Norwegian costume. (Courtesy of Charlotte McDonald)
Epoch Times Photo
The author’s second cousin Sofie Charlotte leading the Syttende Mai children’s parade in Kvinesdal, Norway. (Courtesy of Charlotte McDonald)

After visiting relatives in Norway on our own Independence Day Bicentennial, July 4, 1976, I became aware of how much the Norwegians, too, love their flag, many flying it from their own flag poles. After returning home, I was determined to have my own flag pole and proudly fly Old Glory in front of my home, which I was finally able to do in 1995. I fly a small Norwegian flag under the U.S. flag on May 17.

The Norwegian National Day begins with a breakfast shared with family and neighbors, which fits right into our family style. We eat Norwegian pancakes not only on May 17 but throughout the year, especially on Saturday mornings when time is more leisurely for cooking, or whenever extended family or visitors gather.

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Constitution Day festivities in Norway on May 17, 2017. (V. Belov/Shutterstock)

A large bowl of batter is prepared, and a special 8- or 10-inch cast-iron or metal frying pan, long-used and seasoned, is heated up. Each pancake is slightly cooked on both sides, one at a time. A stack might be made and kept warm in the oven before setting them on the table, but soon the batch will be consumed and each person must wait patiently for a turn to be served again, making the mouth water in anticipation.

When I was young, it was always a contest with siblings, cousins, or friends to see who could consume the most pancakes in one sitting. As a hearty teenager, I believe 10 was my limit, although I’m certain others have long broken that record.

When I was a child, we buttered them and sprinkled them with sugar, then we folded them in half three times into a triangle or wedge shape and ate them with our hands, napkin ready. As we aged, homemade raspberry or strawberry jam replaced sugar for fancier and messier fare, eaten with a fork. Fresh berries are now always available and are rolled inside the pancake, topped with real whipping cream, usually from a can for ease and fun for youngsters and grandpas alike. Much to my shock, my grandchildren have begun frying their own and then spreading Nutella on top, making it very un-Norwegian, I think. Not me, I still prefer butter and sugar!

So this 17th of May, as we all gather to celebrate the Norwegian National Day, and the Sons of Norway hold a ceremony and parade at the International Peace Gardens, you can be certain that Norwegian pancakes will find their way onto our families’ tables and into our tummies, while Norway remains forever in our hearts.

Epoch Times Photo
Norwegian pancakes served with raspberry jam, Nutella, butter, and sugar, to be folded into triangles to eat with your hands. (Courtesy of Charlotte McDonald)

Norwegian Thin Pancakes

The number of people this recipe serves depends on the number of eggs, and how many each person wishes to eat. Use one more egg than the number of people. If you have a crowd of 10 or more, double the recipe. Leftover batter can be saved for a day or two, covered with plastic in the refrigerator; hence, it can be used for snack time, a quick breakfast, or dessert. Experiment with the recipe, being careful to not make them too thick.

Makes about 40 (10-inch) pancakes, enough to serve 6 people (6 to 7 pancakes each)

  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter or margarine
  • 7 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups milk (any percent fat)
  • 3 cups flour (more or less)

Melt butter, let cool.

Beat eggs in a large mixer bowl until light and foamy. Add sugar and salt, mix well. Alternate between adding milk and flour, each 1 cup at a time, to keep batter from being lumpy. (Adding all the milk before the flour will cause a lumpy batter.) Add butter and mix thoroughly. This batter should be thin. Add more milk if necessary to thin.

Heat a lightly buttered cast iron or heavy metal, 8- or 10-inch frying pan. A non-stick pan will not produce a nice glossy or slightly browned pancake, but will work. Older frying pans that are seasoned make cooking easier; everyone has a favorite pan. I have inherited my mother’s round small electric frying pan, which works beautifully.

For each pancake, pour about 1/4 to 1/3 cup batter into the bottom of the medium-hot pan and roll the batter over the surface until the batter covers the pan completely to the edges. As the edges begin to dry and the surface begins to set, slip a metal spatula under the entire pancake carefully and quickly flip it over and fry on the opposite side just until set, being careful not to overcook or burn. Regulate your temperature to the pan you’re using and the type of stove you’re cooking on. The pancake should have slight browning on each side.

Spise opp—eat up!

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