Wherein The Author Celebrates Waffles

My last trip out of town had many high points. We got to visit one of our sons, we got to attend the Oktoberfest put on by his parish church, and we stayed in a hotel that featured free waffles. And I love waffles. I love our son more, of course – but there have been days . . . .

Perhaps my waffle-love dates to my childhood. I have shared on more than one occasion that my mother derived more enjoyment (and was often better at) cleaning up in the mess in the kitchen than making the food that made the mess. There was, however, one exception – waffles.

A good recipe is key, of course, and she had one that traced its lineage to my Aunt Norma, and so probably dates to at least the early 1950’s. It was fairly labor-intensive as breakfast recipes go, and involved the beating and folding-in of egg whites for a really fluffy batter. Any weekend or holiday morning Mom got the urge to make waffles was a good morning.

I have Mom’s recipe today (in her own handwriting on the original recipe card, which adds to the enjoyment) and have made them a handful of times during my adult life. But then along came the big bags of just-add-water pancake mix that was a much simpler proposition – with the side benefit of faster turnaround time for shoveling griddle cakes out to hungry kids. And when waffles were on someone’s mind, the same stuff came with waffle directions and were a functional substitute – with a little added sugar, anyway.

Waffles are almost never my go-to when getting breakfast out because they are a losing value proposition on any breakfast menu. Most breakfast-all-day restaurants will load you up with eggs, bacon or sausage, and a plate of pancakes for right about the same price they charge for a single, naked waffle. By the time you add some eggs and a side of your favorite cured breakfast meat you could have almost bought another entire meal. At that point, waffle-love succumbs to value-love, and I stare wistfully at the table of anyone who throws the budget to the winds and opts for the waffle.

I recall reading one time about the beginnings of the Waffle House chain of little modern day diners situated mostly at exits from interstate highways. The owner was decided to christen the place with the name of the highest-priced item on the menu. And, so, Waffle House. I suddenly feel so manipulated.

Do you remember the first time you went to a hotel and were greeted by one of those big, heavy-duty flipover waffle irons as part of the “complementary breakfast”? Oh boy, I certainly do. It is the one thing I look forward to on almost any hotel stay. Those free waffles are often the only genuinely good part of the buffet, that often includes sausage that tastes like, well, I’m not sure, or instant scrambled eggs that have gotten crispy from too much time spent in the steam table.

If you can avoid the 9-year-old who insists on making two waffles for each member of the family (and who over-pours on the syrup so that it drizzles the floor as he carries the flimsy plates, the free hotel waffle is a great thing. Well, except for the little rock-hard pieces of individually foil-wrapped butter that are such a pain to open and spread before pouring syrup. Life can be so hard.

A little research indicates that the waffle goes back to, well, nobody really knows because medieval advertising was just not very good. But by 1567, waffles were common enough to show up in art. Could this painting depict an early chain of European inns that promoted business by promising free morning meals? Northern European areas of Germany, France and (of course) Belgium seem to have been Waffle Central. Belgium, in particular, developed the Liege waffle into a kind of street food, which was made from a variation on a brioche bread dough and pearl sugar that would caramelize for a sweet, crispy exterior. But what we think of as the Belgian Waffle is more related to another early variety – called the Brussels Waffle, that was fluffier and made with deeper indentations. Those were popularized in the US at a couple of expositions, most notably the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Dusted with confectioner’s sugar and topped with strawberries and whipped cream, they were more of an any-time-of-day treat than a by-then traditional American breakfast item.

By the way, I also discivered that General Electric sold the first commercial waffle irons in 1918, and they were surely in nearly every middle class American home kitchen by the end of WWII. And before that, Henrietta Homemaker may have owned a waffle iron that sat atop a stove burner.

And did you know that the Eggo frozen waffle dates to 1953? Frank Dorsa had been making a waffle mix for restaurants since the 1930s, and figured out how to bake and freeze waffles for retail sale. I never really considered Eggo waffles as real waffles. Until a package shows up in my freezer and I empty it (and fill myself) with gusto. OK, gusto and waffles.

Waffle shape is one of those things that creates disagreement among civilized people. I am a round waffle person. Waffles are just supposed to be round, that’s all.

There are, of course, seriously misinformed people who think waffles should be square. And they should be, if you are a company making frozen waffles or electric waffle irons and need an efficient shape for filling boxes. Or if you have multiple hungry children and need to fill out those corners to feed them faster. But all it takes is one look back at that European innkeeper/vendor from 1567 and there you are. Waffles. Round.

There has also been a recent effort to incorporate waffles into savory non-breakfast food. Think chicken & waffles. I can get behind this trend, as anything that promotes our friend the waffle is OK with me. But I am onto them – how can a restaurant offer a chicken and waffles dish at such a reasonable price compared with the rest of the menu, but price them on a breakfast menu like they are made with gold-flecked batter? Are the most efficient people in the kitchen not up early enough in the morning? This goes counter to my intuition, so we will have to investigate this further.

And why is someone who can’t make up his mind said to waffle? Waffles don’t flip (like pancakes) and there are plenty of other foods that look the same from either side (like, well, almost everything). Yet, we don’t describe an indecisive person as steaking or breading. This is an important question and we deserve answers.

So, back to waffles. Actually, that is a good idea. Maybe it is time for some single-minded and extremely decisive waffling. Which will include buttering, syruping and, of course, enjoying.

21 thoughts on “Wherein The Author Celebrates Waffles

  1. I have to say, I love pancakes, the waffles poor country cousin, but never have them unless I’m eating out. Too “futzy” to make at home, unless you’re doing a big Sunday breakfast. Growing up, my Mom never made waffles, probably because they were “hyper-futzy”, AND, you needed to own another piece of machinery to make them. I can’t imagine my Moms kitchen having enough space for any kind of a waffle iron, electric or otherwise, to be stored. My Mom did Sunday breakfast until she passed, but it was always scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, coffee. Happy with that. BTW, the rule of the house, was the dogs always got a piece of bacon from my Mom on Sunday, which made them happy all day. My Moms excuse was it “keeps their coat shiny”.

    There’s a local diner that when you order pancakes or waffles, puts a few of those rock hard pats of butter in foil, under the waffle or pancake on the way from the kitchen to your table, which the heat makes soft enough to be nicely spreadable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am a pancake fan too, and have made them much more frequently. Our current favorite just-add-water mix is Kodiak Cakes, which are supposed to be better for you. One of my favorite cooking implements has been the non-stick griddle I bought a couple of years ago, a large rectangular thing that covers two stove burners. With that thing handy, pancakes have been a simple proposition. As you say, waffles requires getting out the waffle iron, and then cleaning the waffle iron. But I may have to take the plunge this weekend.

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  2. I went out for breakfast with the family on Saturday. I ordered the Belgian waffle. LIttle secret of Belgian waffles: they’re only a couple hundred calories. With butter, syrup, and a side of bacon (protein) you’re out of there for under 500 calories, which ain’t bad, and it holds you just fine until lunch. Just you check the calories on one of those skillet breakfasts. Horrors.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well, this is good information. It is not common that a favorite food turns out to be good for you too. Or at least not too terribly bad for you. And bacon is my go-to with waffles, so it’s all a win.

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  3. For submission is an alternate waffle use. There was a long period where gluten worked me over in a not so good way, thus bread was an ongoing issue. During this time, Mrs. Jason found a very unique recipe.

    Using I have no clue what all, it is a more savory waffle that is ideal for use as a bread, primarily hamburger buns. It makes for a really good burger with a bun that is decidedly different, yet still quite enjoyable. Plus all the holes help hold condiments much better, causing less bun slippage.

    Yes, they are triangular (being a quarter-round) but there is no unwelcome bun excess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm, that sounds very interesting, and a great bun substitute. Your description of condiment containment and bun slippage make you sound like an engineer. There’s probably a reason for that. πŸ™‚

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  4. The “Toastmaster Waffle-Maker” promo is a wonderful throwback. “Don’t worry if the lucky girl can cook or not.” So many things wrong with that statement. An appliance for a gift (I made that mistake once). A gift costing $12.50 (which was probably a decent spend back then). The assumption my wife would make the waffles (no, no, no). That’s three strikes in this day/age. My own experience with waffles is, it’s all about the toppings. A local restaurant used to have a brunch where the waffles were made-to-order, with strawberries and Chantilly cream on top. Heaven.

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  5. My mom made pancakes on a griddle when I was growing up, but we never had waffles. In later years, it was Eggo Waffles … your post makes me want waffles.

    I remember the breakfast buffets when we were traveling when I was a kid – scrambled eggs and sides on a steam table as I recall. But I was more fascinated with the small boxes of “fun cereal” as we always had oatmeal for breakfast, so now was my chance to try something sugary and not permitted otherwise.

    Once when my my parents and I were traveling and spent the night in a tiny town in Georgia, my father asked the desk clerk her recommendation for a restaurant that served breakfast. We sat down, perused the menu and we all decided to order pancakes, envisioning a stack of them. The waitress said “since you’ve never been here, I recommend one pancake apiece – they are as huge as a garbage can lid.” That was no exaggeration because the plate that contained the one pancake was shaped and fashioned to resemble a garbage can lid, aluminum colored and bent around the ages. So clever and yes … that one pancake was humongous.

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    • Wow – a pancake served in a garbage can lid would be memorable!

      As much as I loved sugary cereals as a kid, I could never see getting them out in a restaurant or hotel buffet because that was the same kind of thing I could get at home, except my at-home favorites were usually not among the choices.

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      • Yes, what a clever marketing idea wasn’t it? And not a chain, just a small-town diner-type restaurant making its mark. Yes, we had those homemade favorites, some which I now think I took for granted back in the day since I don’t take the time to make meals with much TLC, just efficient cooking.

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  6. I must be staying in the wrong hotels for I can’t recall any free waffle continental breakfasts here in Canada, although it’s probably on the breakfast buffet which I usually avoid for the reasons you mentioned. I remember my mother having a waffle pan back in the 60’s/70’s? but as it required too much work and cleaning, it was brought out very seldom. I prefer blueberry pancakes with maple syrup myself, but only on vacation, and I love those little foil packets of butter, because the butter is so fresh and salty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The cleaning was the thing that kept the waffle iron in the cabinet most of the time in my own house. Cleanup after pancakes was always much easier. And yes, there is a lot to be said for blueberry pancakes!

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