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The History of the Waffle
August 24th is National Waffle Day!
I love waffles, don’t you? And I love writing “The History of ...” articles. So, in honor of National Waffle Day, I am taking the time to look at the origin of waffles.
Where did they come from? Who first cooked waffles? How has the delicious, and wildly popular, breakfast treat evolved over time?
Let's examine the answers to these questions an more in this brief glimpse at the history of waffles.
Did the Cavemen Have Waffles?
Probably not, although they did have something similar to what we consider pancakes (or hotcakes).
The Neolithic society was the first society ever to use agriculture as its main source of food. They'd cultivate, and then harvest, a number of wild plants. Historical evidence shows that Neolithic man made a crude version of a hotcake from harvested grains. They cooked these grain cakes on heated stones and flipped them over to heat both sides evenly.
During the Iron Age, men developed metal tools and iron plates on which to cook the griddle cakes. These made the cooking of the cakes much easier. Eventually, someone came up with the idea of cooking the cakes on both sides at once by placing it between heated plates, similar to how waffles are made today.
The Ancient Greeks Had Waffles
Or at least they had a form of a waffle, similar to what other cooks of the Iron Age were making in their "kitchens."
According to Larousse Gastronomique, the ancient Greeks made thin wafer cakes called obleios. These cakes were cooked by pouring a thick batter mixture onto one heated plated and then setting another heated plate on top of that.
I've seen some other sites that have suggested that obleios is the Greek word for "wafer." This, however, does not seem to be the case. It is much more likely that it comes from the Greek word obol, which was actually a coin that the Greeks used to buy these yummy cakes.
Waffles in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
Professional waffle peddlers called obloyeurs began to sell flat cakes made from barley and oats on the streets. These waffles were about the size of a small pizza.
During this time period, iron workers began forging the plates into the honeycomb pattern that we recognize today. Existing printed documents from this time show the Old French word gaufre (also rendered wafla , in the Old English) in use. Wafla was used to describe a segment of a bee hive.
The waffle quickly became a favorite food item. It was eaten among all social classes (athough the rich got the added perks of eggs, milk, and honey to flavor their doughy delights).
Waffles in Colonial Times
Dutch-style wafles came to the New World with the Puritans, who stopped over at Holland before making the long journey across the ocean in 1620. They may have been overly superstitious and hypocritical in their dealings with their fellow man (or women, especially), but the Puritans certainly did know a good food item when they saw it!
By the middle of the 18th century, English speakers in the colonies added an “f” to the traditional spelling of wafle , giving us the word we all use today - waffle!
One of Our Founding Fathers Starts a Waffle Craze
In 1789, just as the French Revolution was taking off, Thomas Jefferson’s second term as ambassador to France was ending. After sharing some great ideas with the French revolutionary leaders, Jefferson made his exit and returned to the United States. He took two very important items with him, though: a pasta machine and a long-handled waffle iron.
The introduction of the long-handled waffle iron set off a national waffle craze. Everybody who was anybody began having and attending waffle parties. Attendees could top their waffles and enjoy them either sweet (with maple syrup or molasses) or savory (under a heap of kidney stew).
People who attended waffle parties in the South enjoyed their waffles with a hefty side of fried chicken, thus a culinary classic was born!
First Waffle Iron Patent
Thomas Jefferson may have introduced the waffle iron to the States, but Cornelius Swartwout perfected it – and patented it!
On August 24th, 1869, Swartwout, a Dutch-American, received the first ever patent for baking waffles over a coal stove. He was sixty years old at the time.
In honor of his ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, we now celebrate August 24th as National Waffle Day.
Waffles for Everyone
A little more than forty years after the waffle iron was patented, General Electric brought good things to life in the waffle-making world by manufacturing the first electric waffle iron. The waffle iron, designed by Thomas J. Stackbeck, had an internal, self-regulating temperature control that kept the machine from overheating and burning the waffles.
Very little has actually changed in waffle iron design since Stackbeck’s creation. Sure, waffle irons now have non-stick surfaces and super-cute design patterns, but the major mechanics are still the same.
GE’s innovation made the waffle iron a household item by the 1930s, and the waffle iron still holds a beloved spot in the kitchens of millions of homes in the United States today.
You Can Make Waffles in All Kinds of Fun Shapes!
The Current Best-Selling Waffle Maker on Amazon
Did You Know?
Eggos were originally marketed as Froffles ("frozen" + "waffles"), but they had such an eggy taste to them that people started referring to them as "Eggos." The name caught on, stuck, and a food icon was born!
Frozen Waffles! No Iron Needed!
In 1953, the three Dorsa brothers (Tony, Sam, and Frank) from San Jose, California, introduced the country to a product that would soon become a cultural icon - the Eggo waffle. These waffles were already cooked, so there was no need for a waffle iron. All you needed to do was stick the Eggo in the toaster, and you had a delicious waffle breakfast in minutes!
Kellogg’s bought the waffle brand in the 1970s, along with Mrs. Smith’s Pies, in an effort to diversify its product base. It was definitely a wise move, if you ask me. And I don't think it hurt the wallets of the Eggo creators, either!
Kellogg's did a lot to promote the frozen waffles and enhance their image in the eyes of the American public. They were the ones who came up with the now famous slogan, “Leggo my Eggo!”
The Yummiest Waffles of All
In 1964, Belgian businessman Maurice Vermersch sold his wife’s waffle recipe to manufacturers at the New York World’s Fair.
These big, fluffy waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream were an instant hit among Americans and are still enjoyed nationwide today in a number of chain restaurants and even at home. Americans can now buy their very own Belgian waffle makers.
Belgian waffles are, admittedly, my very favorite. I love the lighter, fluffier texture - and even though you can top regular waffles with whipped cream and strawberries, too, it just doesn’t taste as good as a Belgian waffle.
I think I'll go make myself one of these treats right now to celebrate National Waffle Day. What about you?