Want a waffle with that earthshake?
All Virginia earthquake jokes aside, today is a momentous day indeed. On this day in 1869, Dutch American Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York, received a U.S. patent for the first waffle iron. Described as simply a “device to bake waffles,” the waffle iron was heated over a coal stove, and batter was poured on the griddle. Then the cover was shut, and after a few minutes, the iron was flipped over to cook the other side of the waffle. Breakfast would never quite be the same.
By the 1930s, the honeycombed griddle was a standard appliance in American kitchens, thanks to General Electric’s invention of the electric waffle iron. Responding to the demand, the Dorsa brothers created an easy waffle mix in the mid-1930s that would eventually become the frozen waffle brand Eggo. Belgian waffles—thick, fluffy waffles dressed with strawberries and whipped cream—were an immediate hit with Americans when Maurice Vermersch debuted his wife’s waffle recipe at the 1964 World’s Fair in Chicago. Today, waffles are a ubiquitous item that can be found in the frozen foods section of grocery stores and on breakfast menus everywhere.
But waffles of all sorts have been around far longer than 1964 or 1930—or even 1869.
Food history suggests that the earliest form of the waffle occurred thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. The obleios were flat cakes cooked between two metal plates and generally eaten savory with herbs and cheese.
From Greece, the waffle made its way throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. At some point in the 1200s, a craftsman created hot plates with a griddle pattern to make cakes with the honeycomb marks that we are familiar with today. Waffles were vended around churches due to their resemblance to communion wafers and eventually traveled to the New World in 1620 with the Pilgrims, who’d picked it up from the Dutch. Rumor has it that the waffle iron Thomas Jefferson brought from France sparked a trend in “waffle frolics”—that is, waffle parties! From then on, waffles were a popular pastry that Americans ate either sweet (maple syrup, chocolate sauce, fruit) or savory (kidney stew, fried chicken).
Here on Pieces of History, we’re celebrating National Waffle Day (the anniversary of Swarthout’s patent) by sharing a recipe from our holdings: JFK’s favorite waffle recipe.
I’m not much of a cobbler, a baker, or Belgian waffle maker, but the combination of ingredients looked fairly promising. We contacted the archivists at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for more information. Did JFK really love his waffles? And does this recipe produce especially tasty waffles?
“This was a standard response sent out by the White House to inquirers,” explained Stephen Plotkin, reference archivist at JFK Library. “It probably was a favorite, but Kennedy was not much of a trencherman, so I’m never sure what that really means. Personally, the only waffles I will eat are the ones my wife makes,” he added, regarding the recipe.
In the absence of Presidential waffle anecdotes, here’s one last waffle fact: In 1971, Olympic track coach Bill Bowerman experimented with his wife’s waffle iron to create a new rubber sole for footwear that would grip but be lightweight. The success of his “Waffle Iron” shoes helped his fledgling athletic footwear enterprise become global giant Nike, Inc.
From flat cakes to footwear—who would’ve thought?
All this talk has us wanting to have our own waffle frolic! How do you like to make or eat your waffles?