Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 24, 2013


August 24, 1869: US patent # 94,093 is issued to Cornelius Swarthout. The patent was for a waffle iron. The idea of cooking batter between two hot metal plates is quite old, going back to the ancient Greeks. They were originally flat cakes. In the Middle East they were called oublies and could be rolled and filled. By the 13th century, some craftsman built the plates with the ridges or honeycomb pattern and called his cakes gaufres from the Old French wafla.

The Dutch called the cakes wafel. The Pilgrims had learned of the treat before sailing to the New World and brought the cakes with them. Wafel appeared in English print by 1735. Thomas Jefferson brought back a long handled waffle iron from a trip to France. Some early waffle irons included intricate patterns such as a coat of arms or religious symbols. The batter was placed between the hinged plates that were then pressed together using wooden handles. The whole mechanism was then placed over the hearth fire to bake.

Swarthout, a Dutch-American, patented a version of waffle iron made using cast iron for the plates. The batter was pressed between the plates and then cooked on the stove top. The next leap in waffle technology came in 1911 when General Electric produced the first electric iron. They introduced a heating element using a built-in thermostat. Earlier versions often burned the waffle due to overheating. Today’s waffle irons appear different but the basic design remains the same but with upgrades such as non-stick surfaces.

There are a variety of waffles made throughout the world. Brussels waffles are thicker and with large pockets. They are often sold by street vendors with a dusting of powdered sugar. Liège waffles were created by a Belgium chef and contain caramelized chunks of pearl sugar. American waffles (Belgium waffles) are leavened with baking powder rather than yeast. They can be sweetened or used as a base for entrees, as in some chicken dishes. Hong Kong waffles are round and can be spread with peanut butter and sugar before eating the treat, often sold by street vendors. Stroopwafels are thin, round, and have a syrup filling. Which do you want? Stop waffling.

“A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap.” – Mitch Hedberg

“He give her a look that you could of poured on a waffle.” – Ring Lardner

“I have always loved Waffle House. It’s been like an oasis in the desert many times late at night after one of my concerts.” – Trace Adkins

“I’ve waffled before. I’ll waffle again.” – Howard Dean

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: A similar food is the pancake, also called a hotcake or flapjack. Rather than prepared by heating both sides simultaneously, each side is fried on a griddle. In America, a raising agent, usually baking powder, is used while in Britain no raising agents are part of the recipe. Like waffles, pancakes can be filled or have a topping applied. Toppings can include anything from traditional syrup to jams and fruits or even meats when used as an entrée. Shrove Tuesday is often associated with pancakes and in Britain the day is called Pancake Day. The idea was to use up perishable ingredients prior to the beginning of Lent when fasting is observed. Pancakes may have been the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies. They can be thin (crêpes) to thick and other variations include blintzes and latkes. 

Also on this day: Pompeii Disappears – In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupts.
George Crum – In 1853, George Crum invents potato chips.
Not a Black Hole – Yet – In 1690, Calcutta is founded.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: