The five Ws of Waffle Day
Enjoy some heart-shaped waffles this March 25—or any day
Barbara K. Rostad
Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho
Waffles: the ultimate comfort food. That’s how author and waffle entrepreneur Stine Åsland describes this ubiquitous heart-shaped edible devoured more often in Norway than anywhere else in the world.
Versatile and inexpensive, waffles do duty not just for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but also for snacks or dessert. Is it any wonder, then, that there’s an International Waffle Day on March 25? The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Waffle Day and the whole Norwegian waffle phenomenon is explored here just as Waffle Day links up with Good Friday.
Though waffles originated in Belgium and the Waffle Day celebration began in Sweden, it is widely acknowledged that the heart-shaped kind are found primarily on Scandinavian shores and that Norwegians top everyone in their enthusiasm for eating them.
Already in the 1300s, large square waffle irons were used in Germany and the Netherlands. Cakes and waffles baked in cast iron forms are among the oldest kind of Norwegian cakes, some of which have been found with runic writing on them. The oldest waffle irons made one heart-shaped or square waffle. Later three hearts in the same iron gained favor and of course, the ones in use today traditionally feature five hearts.
But how did waffles get linked to a religious holiday, Annunciation Day? And why March 25? Annunciation Day marks the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. The date was chosen because it is nine months prior to Christmas Day. As noted, cakes of various types, including the predecessor to today’s waffles, were served on holidays such as Annunciation Day.
Waffle Day actually began in Sweden. The Swedish term for Annunciation Day is Varfruedag (Day of Our Lady). But somewhere something got lost in translation amid the many dialects, and it began to be referred to as Vaffeldag (Waffle Day). Now on this day, people all over Sweden enjoy waffles with jam and whipped cream. Both days are celebrated on March 25.
In what must be a relatively rare convergence of events, Waffle Day/Annunciation Day falls on Good Friday this year, so that the holiday commemorating the announcement of the coming birth of Jesus is the same day this year for marking the death of Jesus.
Waffles have another link to religion via the Norwegian Seaman’s Churches. There are 31 of them all over the globe, and they serve as both a spiritual and a social center not just for sailors or merchant marines but for any Norwegian living or traveling abroad.
“Nothing says ‘home’ to Norwegians like a waffle,” claims a 2016 article in Nordic Diner. “Waffles are the epitome of hospitality and warmth. They are as important to Norwegians as the croissant is to the French. They represent a sense of belonging, the taste of home.”
According to this online food magazine, Seaman’s Churches have been serving waffles for nearly 200 years, starting not long after the organization was founded in 1834. “Waffles and Seamen’s churches are tied together like a sailor’s knot,” they conclude.
What’s more, each of the churches has its own waffle recipe. “During their yearly campaign, ‘Hjertevarme’ (Warm Hearts), they hand out thousands of heart-shaped waffles as a symbol of generosity.”
Two popular ways to serve waffles in Norway are with sour cream and jam or with brown goat cheese (brunost).
Of course, recipes abound for variations on waffles. One of the ingredients that gives a special flavor to many Norwegian waffles is cardamom, a very expensive spice in the ginger family that grows only in a few select places around the world including China, Guatemala, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
Picking cardamom is very labor intensive as it is the fruit of a tropical plant that flowers eight or nine months of the year. Pods must be picked when they are three-quarters ripe.
Cardamom flavors more than waffles. Norwegians use it in krumkake, julekake, and other baked goods as well as for some meats. It lends its distinctive flavor to chai too.
This spice also has many medicinal qualities and has been used by Eastern cultures for years, primarily as an analgesic and an antispasmodic. Some of cardamom’s health benefits include an aid to digestion, a way to control nausea, detoxification of the body, prevention of bad breath, and fighting depression, to name but a few.
It may or may not have included cardamom, but the World’s Largest Waffle was prepared by Norwegian Rolf Moen in 2008. With nearly a gallon of batter, he turned out a 4.4 lb. waffle that made the Guinness Book of Records. How did he fry it? Between two manhole covers from downtown Oslo.
A variety of books have been written about waffles, many of them recipes or cookbooks. A current one by Norwegian Stine Åsland is We Love Waffles. Known as the Queen of Waffles, Åsland founded a waffle company in Norway in 2008. It is now Norway’s largest waffle company. However, she sold it in 2014 and moved to the U.S. where she established a new waffle business. Her goal is to spread Norwegian waffles all over the U.S. To that end, she has been making appearances around the country including Høstfest last fall and Vesterheim last December.
But waffle books go beyond cookbooks. Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvarth is a children’s book featuring a young orphaned girl.
Taking on the differences between men and women is a 2001 book by the Farrels, Men are Like Waffles; Women Are Like Spaghetti. Their basic premise is that men compartmentalize the many aspects of their lives, each walled off like the little segments of a waffle. Women, however, allow every facet of their lives to touch every other part—like spaghetti immersed in sauce.
Waffle Day was celebrated a bit early in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The Sons of Norway Lodge had a Waffle Social March 18 offering waffles with syrup and sausage, waffles with goat cheese, and waffles with berries and whipped cream or ice cream.
Several members of this lodge also participated in a multicultural fair at Lakes Middle School, Coeur d’ Alene. A Trifold about Waffle Day was part of their display. They gave away waffle hearts with butter and jam.
If you are reading this past March 25, 2016, don’t despair. Any day’s a good day for waffles in Norway or anywhere. Don’t have a Norwegian waffle iron? You can get a waffle maker with heart shapes at your local Scandinavian store or even through most big-box stores and Amazon.
And if you don’t want to wait until next March 25 to celebrate these golden goodies, another chance comes along August 24. That’s Waffle Day in the U.S., marking the date in 1869 when Cornelius Swartout of Troy, New York, patented the first U.S. Waffle Maker.
This article originally appeared in the March 25, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.