It is amazing how food names have crept into our everyday language. A wad of lettuce has come to mean a bunch of money, or even a wad of dough. Bread also denotes money. Then there are waffles. If some one reneges on a task or tries to get out of it, he is waffling.

The creation of the first waffle is lost in history. It probably occurred not long after man started making bread, somewhere around 1000 B.C. As with bread, a rustic mass of ground (mashed-up) flour and water was cooked on heated stones. This flat piece of dough was flipped so that both sides were cooked and browned. Bread was shaped more like the loaf we know today.

Around 550 B.C., some iron tools were invented, including a flat plate or griddle used to bake the dough or bread. At some point in time, two iron plates with dough in the middle were used to cook these flat pieces of dough. If there were rough places in the iron plates, which might have left an imprint in baking, we can assume that they created the forerunner of waffles.

The ancient Greeks were quite resourceful and formed these flat pieces of dough into various shapes. They added herbs and cheese for flavorings. By the Middle Ages, flat pieces of dough called “oublie” were rolled and sold by street vendors.

Another theory as to the origin of the pancake dates back to the time of the Crusades. Upon returning from one of the Holy Wars, a Crusader is supposed to have entered his house still wearing his cross-meshed foil and armor. He greeted his wife and family and, being tired, he sat down on the nearest stool. Unfortunately, the stool contained a stack of freshly made pancakes. The waffle pattern of the gentleman’s armor supposedly gave the pattern of waffling.

Waffles are mentioned in 12th-century ballads. The original French word for waffle iron, “fer a gaufres,” first appeared in print in 1433. However, the gaufres were probably much closer to the thin waffled cookies we know today than the thick breakfast waffles. Other waffle designs included landscapes, coats of arms and religious symbols.

By the 16th century, waffles were consumed by all classes of society. They were made with water and often bad flour, and were eaten by the poor during bread shortages. For the upper class, eggs, milk and honey were added.

Waffles were known in England, and the Pilgrims learned of them either there or in Holland. The Pilgrims brought their waffle recipes and waffle irons with them to the Massachusetts Colony. Shortly thereafter, the Dutch settled in the New Amsterdam Colony, and they also had the recipe and equipment for waffles.

Thomas Jefferson is given credit for bringing the waffle iron back from Holland when he was ambassador to France in the late 1700s. He was the first to serve waffles at a formal party.

In America in the early 1800s, vendors on city streets sold waffles covered with butter and molasses or maple syrup. At about the same time, waffles became a favorite breakfast item in the South. There, they were served topped with a fried piece of country ham and maple syrup or molasses.

The original recipe for waffles, brought to New Amsterdam by the Dutch settlers, was made with wheat flour. The Dutch used yeast made from stale beer for a leavening agent. The batter was very similar to plain pancakes, also though to be a Dutch invention. Pioneering colonists made waffles from sweet potatoes, buckwheat and cornmeal, as well as wheat flour. In the South, a small amount of boiled white rice frequently was added to the waffle batter.

The early settlers heated their waffle irons in the fireplace. After the kitchen stove was invented, housewives heated their waffle irons on top of the stove.

By the 17th century, wheat-based waffles generally were available. However, sugar for these waffles was prohibitively expensive, except for the very rich and the monarchy. Even for the Dutch, who controlled the sugar trade, 2 ounces of sugar was the equivalent of a half-ounce of silver. However, by the 18th century, sugar prices were cut in half when sugar plantations were established in the Caribbean.

A Dutch American, Cornelius Swarthwout of Troy, New York, received a patent for the first waffle iron in 1869. It was described as a “devise to bake waffles.” The use directions called for the waffle iron to be heated over a coal stove. Then batter was poured in, the cover was closed and, after a few minutes, the piece of dough was flipped to cook the other side.

In 1971, Oregon track coach Bill Boweman used the family waffle iron to experiment with the idea of a new sole for track footwear that would grip but be lightweight. He became the co-founder of Nike, which helped to revolutionize athletic shoes.

Today, waffles are eaten all over the world. There are more than a dozen varieties. Belgian waffles, with their large indentations, are still top sellers. This type of waffle iron is available for home use.

Is there a chocolate lover in your family? Try Brownie Waffles. We liked them with ice cream for dessert.

Brownie Waffles

» ½ cup butter, melted (or ¼ cup each butter and margarine)

» 2 ounces (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate)

» 1 cup sugar

» ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

» 2 eggs

» 1½ cups all-purpose cups flour

» 1 teaspoon baking powder

» ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon

» ½ cup milk

» 1 cup finely chopped pecans, almonds or walnuts

Melt butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan; add sugar and beat well. Add vanilla, and cool. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon together. Add alternately with milk to the first mixture. Add nuts. Bake according to directions for your waffle iron.

When first taken from the waffle iron, the waffle will be soft, but it gets crisp as it cools. Makes 4 waffles.

If batter is left over, refrigerate. Before cooking, add ½ teaspoon baking powder mixed with 1 teaspoon water for each cup of batter. This batter keeps several days, covered in the refrigerator.

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Hilde G. Lee is a food writer and co-author of “Virginia Wine Country III” with her husband, Allan Lee. She can be reached at hildeglee@yahoo.com.. Lee is a food writer and co-author of “Virginia Wine Country III” with her husband, Allan Lee. She can be reached at hildeglee@yahoo.com.

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