Evidently, waffles are much more popular than we imagine. National Waffle Day is celebrated on August 24th. A more famous waffle holiday is celebrated in Sweden on March 25th called Waffeldagen, which is the one I’ve celebrated for many years. It turns out that many countries have their own variation on this simple delight. Society celebrates further by enjoying Waffle Week.
The waffle has a much older pedigree than you might imagine.
If you think that waffles evolved from pancakes, you’re correct. It’s a logical conclusion because both cakes use a very similar batter. Archaeologists have discovered that a type of pancake was eaten by Neolithic humans. Evidence shows that they cultivated wild versions of grain, harvested them, and pounded the grains into a pulp that was cooked on heated stones. Even though spatulas weren’t invented yet, the “pancakes” were flipped in order to cook both sides.
Sometime, around 1200 BCE, during the iron age, the evidence shows that somebody began using two heated iron plates to cook the grain cakes on both sides at once. However, there was no grid pattern to the food. Similarly, people in ancient Greece enjoyed eating a wafer cake known as “obleios”. They were prepared by pouring batter onto a heated iron plate, then placing another heated plate on top of the first. The wafer cakes became popular as vendors started to sell them on the streets of ancient Athens.
The cakes became more like our modern version starting in Midieaval Europe. A French blacksmith was inspired by the pattern of the honeycombs made by bees. He cast a flatiron that featured the grid-shaped pattern. Within a few years, the cakes were prepared in bakeries and by street vendors. The delicacies were called “gaufre”. In the low countries and Scandinavia the word “wafel” had come into use. Later, the Old English word “wafla” was coined to describe the same design.
The newfangled grid-shaped cakes were eaten by nearly everyone. Wealthy and noble citizens enjoyed their gaufre with honey. Everyone else ate them plain. The food was so popular that King Charles IX proclaimed regulations for the waffle business because of the problem of disputes between waffle vendors in Paris and other French cities.
By the 1600s, the best recipes and preparation techniques were developed in Holland. If we could travel back via a time machine, we would probably recognize dutch wafels as very similar to our own waffles. The food was so much a part of culture, that the first European settlers bound for the Eastern seaboard of North America brought wafel irons with them to the colonies.
By the 1750s the colonists had Americanized the traditional spelling to “waffle”.
In the early years of the United States, Thomas Jefferson’s stint as US Ambassador to France was wrapping up. As souvenirs to bring home, Jefferson chose a pasta machine, and a long-handled waffle iron. Once at home, Jefferson had waffles served during dinner parties. Soon, it became a national fashion to enjoy waffle parties. Attendees could top the cakes with molasses or maple syrup. Some hosts served waffles topped with a savory stew.
The next development in waffle history was from a Dutch-American inventor. Cornelius Swartwout adapted the waffle iron for use on top of a coal or wood fired range. Swartwout was granted a patent for his gadget in August of 1869.
In the early 1900s Thomas Stackbeck developed the first electric waffle iron. His invention featured a self-regulating temperature control that prevented the device from overheating. It is this design that provides the basis for our modern waffle iron appliances.
The latest development in popular waffle consumption came from San Jose, California. Tony, Sam, and Frank Dorsa decided to sell pre-baked waffles to the public. The Dorsa brothers perfected a thin, frozen waffle that could be quickly reheated in a conventional toaster. Their product was named the “Eggo” waffle.
I prefer to bake my own waffles, because I’m able to use healthier ingredients and also experiment with different recipes. My favorite of the two waffle irons in my kitchen, is the vintage “Universal” iron I’ve owned since 1977. Dad dug through some old appliances in his basement and gave me the waffle iron to use. It took several hours to clean off the crusty residue and then restore the chrome finish of the appliance. I then replaced the frayed, cloth-covered cord with a modern one. There is no temperature control dial, so I regulate the heat by plugging and unplugging the cord from the wall outlet.
If I’m preparing just a few waffles for myself or one other guest, I mix the batter in a shaker bottle instead of a bowl. The use of the shaker keeps clean up chores to a minimum.
We still have three more days left of Waffle Week, so go ahead and indulge in this old-fashioned delicacy soon.