What’s on your plate for Waffle Day?
27,000 tons of waffles aren’t going to eat themselves
M. Michael Brady
March 25 is International Waffle Day. By tradition in the Nordic countries, it’s the day for consuming waffles and for discussing topical dates, not least the celebration of the start of spring. In 2019, should it be the vernal equinox (March 20), or should it be March 31, the last Sunday of the month, when across Europe clocks are advanced one hour to change Central European Time (CET) to Central European Summer Time (CEST)?
The date was chosen a few centuries ago by linguistic accident in Sweden. In spoken Swedish, the Feast of the Annunciation is known as Vårfrudagen (Our Lady’s Day), which by a slip of the tongue could be Våffeldagen (Waffle Day). The slip went unnoticed as the custom spread throughout the Nordic countries, perhaps because the name of the day differed; in Norwegian it’s Maria Budskapsdag.
Trade rose to meet need. Waffle irons of various designs have been made from the 15th century on; the oldest known in Norway was forged in 1685 and is held by the Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History) in Oslo. Most were unwieldy. But on Aug. 24, 1869, there was a breakthrough. Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, N.Y., filed patent no. 94043 for a stovetop waffle iron that had a handle and a clasp that enabled flipping the iron without slippage or burns. That led to Aug. 24 being celebrated as Waffle Day in North America, as well as to waffle irons of similar designs being made elsewhere, as from 1880 on by Mustad Fabrikker in Gjøvik, Norway.
Norwegians literally took waffles to their hearts. Early waffle irons, including those forged in Norway, made rectangular waffles. But in the mid-19th century, waffles became heart-shaped in the Nordic countries. Waffle historians speculate that the Nordic shift of shape may have come about because waffles then were served at weddings, and the heart had been the symbol of love since medieval times.
The electrification of Norwegian homes in the 1930s caught up with waffle making, and in 1937 the first Norwegian-made countertop electric waffle iron was sold. From then on, the culinary love affair with the heart-shaped Norwegian waffle burgeoned. Waffles became desserts when topped with jam and sour cream, lunch packet staples when topped with goat cheese, or wrapped around frankfurters, and snacks when eaten without topping. Waffle recipes were commonplace in cookery books and newspaper culinary columns. Today, they’re online; The Norwegian American has published many waffle recipes, with a favorite being this one by Taste of Norway editor Daytona Strong: www.norwegianamerican.com/featured/warm-up-with-heart-shaped-waffles.
Despite the popularity of waffles, there are no exact figures on how many of them are made and eaten each year. Official food consumption statistics peg the number at 87 million. But that’s the figure for the ready-made sort sold in supermarkets. Assuming that as many or slightly more are of the homemade sort, the total is probably around 180 million a year. Reckoning the weight of the average five or six-heart waffle at about 150 grams, that works out to 27,000 tons of waffles a year.
This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.