|Still Life with Waffles by Georg Flegel, 17th c. Dutch|
Waffles in History
Waffles are cakes made using a light, eggy batter and are distinguished by being baked on special irons which emboss them with a honeycomb-like texture. Waffles are most usually associated with the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, where they can be found in abundance on street carts, sweet shops, and in cafes. They are topped with sweet sauces, chocolate, fruit, caramel, whipped cream, ice cream and many other tasty treats. There is also a magical confection called a stroopwafel which consists of wafer-thin waffles that are sealed together with tasty caramel. My recent visit to Amsterdam gave me a great education in the many ways in which waffles can be enjoyed!
Despite this association, particularly with the Dutch and Belgians, waffles may have originated in ancient Greece with recipes for obelios which are flat cakes cooked between two hot metal plates. Cooking the cakes on the honeycomb-shaped plates seems to have emerged in the 13th century.
Waffles go back in Dutch history to at least the early 17th century but likely much earlier. A recipe for Waffles appears in a 17th century Dutch cookbook called De Verstandige Kock (The Sensible Cook), the third book in larger set called Het Vermakelijick Landtleven (The Pleasurable Country Life). The work was first published in 1667 by Pieter van Angeles. It was translated into English in Peter G. Rose's book called The Sensible Cook: Dutch Foodways in the Old and the New World (Syracuse University Press, 1989). Here is the waffle recipe in English:
To Fry Waffles
For each pond [sic] of wheat flour take a pint of sweet milk, a little tin bowl of melted butter with 3 or 4 eggs, a spoonful of yeast well stirred together.
The Dutch who settled New Amsterdam (New York) in 1609 likely brought waffles, among other culinary delights, to the New World. However, the famous Pilgrims who settled Plymouth, Massachusetts, probably also brought them to America; they encountered them at least a decade prior to their famous sail on the Mayflower to the New World when the emigrated to the Netherlands around 1606.
By the 18th century, waffles were firmly established in England, France, and North America. There are records of waffle parties in 18th century America and Thomas Jefferson even brought a waffle iron back to Virginia from France. Having spent lots of time in and around 18th and 19th centuryAmerican historic kitchens, and having read dozens of contemporary American probate inventories of taxable property, I can attest to the marked presence of cast iron waffle irons in North America.
5 eggs to a quart of milk, 1 ¼ lb. flour , ½ lb. of butter, beat them all together & bake them in Irons. Serve them with sifted sugar, cinnamon & Butter.
- 5 Large Eggs, Separated
- 4 Cups Milk
- 2 Sticks Butter, Melted
- 4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
- Butter and Cinnamon-Sugar, to Taste
5. Top the waffles with butter and cinnamon-sugar.
boil a tea-cupful of rice and beat 2 eggs, 1 pint flour, 1 spoonful of butter & as much milk as will make them into thin batter. bake in irons.
- 2 Large Eggs, Separated
- 1 Cup Rice, Cooked
- 2 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
- 3 Cups All Purpose Flour
- 2 Cups Milk
- Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (New York, 2002)
- LaRousse Gastronomique, New York, Clarkson Potters, Publishers, 2001.
- Oxford English Dictionary