On many occasions now in our era of time, it is customary to open the freezer, remove a waffle or two and pop them into a toaster – resulting in a half excuse compared to a waffle from an old waffle iron.
At least once a week my mother would remove the old round waffle iron from the old cupboard, wipe it off and set it on the kitchen table ready to prepare an attractive brown waffle.
Due to the numerous other tasks in preparing any meal, Mom usually had to toil a few hours in food preparation at least twice a day. Breakfast and supper were those two meals.
“Men work sun to sun, a woman’s work is never done,” was the saying she quoted at least once a week. Now both are much shorter, except in farming.
Metal expertise. Waffle and wafer irons are quite unique, and collectors of early and more recent cooking utensils are often quite interested. The attractive part of these devices is the incised designs and unusual grid patterns. Of all the kitchen cooking apparatus, these entailed metalcraft expertise.
These irons comprised two-wrought iron plates hinged on one side. The opposite side had handles projecting well beyond the plates, thereby protecting the fingers from the hot iron plates.
Early types were two plates only to set over the coal stove surface. Later types were electrified. These two plates also added weight, which assisted in holding the batter in place.
Wafer plates were sometimes different due to their incised patterns which were used to bake communion wafers for Catholic services.
During the Renaissance, blacksmiths began making wafer irons with non-religious designs – hunting, rural and familiar daily life scenes. This secular trend influenced other skilled metal workers to create stamps for sealing messages and other important items bearing their crest or names.
Chaucer’s wafers. The inventor of wafer irons is unknown, however, in “The Canterbury Tales,” where Chaucer wrote: “wafers pipying hoot out of the gleede.” For centuries thereafter, popularity of wafers grew for all to enjoy snacks or dessert, especially for special occasions.
Due to the excellent craftsmanship in making the fancy wafer irons, these wares became prized possessions of the well-to-do when serving “cialdoni,” an ornamental Italian pastry.
This specialty became associated with the Sunday before Lent. The custom “going a Mothering” on that day was when young ladies cooked “cialdons” and presented them to their mothers.
Waffle vs. wafer. Another event lost in time is when waffle irons appeared. Undoubtedly, they were a variation of the wafer iron. The suggestion is that to lower the cost of grid making by simplifying it to a more plain design, a craftsman wished to improve his economic situation.
This may have proved true then as it does now – the general public could enjoy thick, tasty and crisp cakes. Waffle recipes are of a looser batter than the wafer, therefore filling in the deeper cuts in the cast iron plates.
When our pioneers came over to the New World, records indicate waffle and wafer irons were part of their possessions. Since then, waffles have been part of our cuisine. Throughout our history waffle breakfasts and supper have been enjoyed regularly.
Regional cuisine. Southern recipes included rice, cornmeal, sweet potatoes and pecans in waffle batter. Chicken and waffles were – and still may be – a meal for Pennsylvania Germans.
Around the District of Columbia, waffles made of regular batter were topped with chicken or turkey hash or served with broiled ham or chicken in a gravy.
New Englanders preferred molasses, maple syrup or salt-pork gravy, or waffles topped with fresh berries or prepared fruit.
Special pattern irons were often used for festivities. These irons had designs of hex signs, flowers, animals or symmetrical.