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Waffles for Lady Day

 

Having now cleared away my smaller articles of news, I come to a communication of some weight; no less than that my uncle and aunt are going to allow James 100£. a year. We hear of it through Steventon. Mary sent us the other day an extract from my aunt’s letter on the subject, in which the donation is made with the greatest kindness… The hundred a year begins next Lady-day.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
December 9, 1808

In the western Liturgical year, Lady Day is the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The term derives from Middle English, when some nouns lost their genitive inflections. “Lady” would later gain an -s genitive ending, and therefore the name means “Lady’s day.”

The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci (1472-1475) Uffizi Gallery.

In England, Lady Day was New Year’s Day up to 1752 when, following the move from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, 1 January became the start of the year. As a year-end and quarter day that conveniently did not fall within or between the seasons for ploughing and harvesting, Lady Day was a traditional day on which year-long contracts between landowners and tenant farmers would begin and end in England and nearby lands (although there were regional variations).

In Swedish, the word våffla is attested since 1642 and derives from the German Waffel but is possibly associated by ancestors with Vår Fru (The Virgin Mary).  Waffles are served, even today, in a large number of Swedish householdson Våffeldagen, that is to say, on Lady Day, which is observed the 25th of March. In modern times, March 25 has been designated as “International Waffle Day”.

Waffles, although a popular breakfast, dinner and dessert food, depending on where you are from, trace their roots back to the Greeks and have long held religious significance.

Wafer and waffle share common etymological roots. Wafre (“wafer”) occurs in Middle English by 1377, adopted from Middle Low German wâfel, with the l changed to r. Modern Dutch wafel, French gaufre, and German Waffel, all meaning “waffle”, share the same origin. The Dutch form, wafel, was adopted into modern American English as waffle in the 18th century.

The modern waffle has its origins in the wafers—very light thin crisp cakes baked between wafer irons—of the Middle Ages in the Province of Brabant (modern-day Belgium) Light and airy, Geoffery Chaucer considered them delicate enough to entice love, writing of Absalom’s love for Alison in The Miller’s Tale (The Canterbury Tales) :

He sent her sweetened wine and well-spiced ale
And waffles piping hot out of the fire,
And, she being town-bred, mead for her desire.
For some are won by means of money spent,
And some by tricks, and some by long descent.
(Lines 270-274)

Wafer irons consisted of two metal plates connected by a hinge, with each plate connected to an arm with a wooden handle. The iron was placed over a fire and flipped to cook both sides of the wafer. The irons were used to produce a variety of different flat, unleavened cakes, usually from a mixture of barley and oats, instead of the white flour used today.

A Medieval waffle iron and a period painting showing it’s use.

In 14th-century England, wafers were sold by street vendors called waferers. The modern waffle is a leavened form of wafer. On holy days, doors to churchs would be besieged by waferers selling their wares, most often with “cross shaped” markings, though waffle irons might also be imprinted with coats of arms or other symbols. The resulting chaos  was solved by the passing of a law by Charles IX of France (27 June 1550 – 30 May 1574) that waferers had to stand at least eight feet apart at all times when selling their wares.

By Elizabethan times, waffles were enjoyed by those in all levels of society, with the rich adding eggs, cream, leavening and sugar to the recipe. The first recorded waffle recipes began to appear in print in the 1730’s, though waffles were first introduced to North America in 1620 by Pilgrims who brought the method from Holland. Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron and “modernized” recipe from Holland in 1790, when he returned to the United States after his time as ambassador to France. Waffle frolics or parties became popular in the late 18th century, where prepared waffles were topped with anything from sweet sauces and fruits to savory kidney stew.

It has been recorded that Jefferson served yeast-leavened waffles to Merriweather Lewis at a dinner at the White House, before Lewis and William Clark made their famous trip to the West Coast in 1804.

With the advent of Baking Powder (called soda ash, when it was invented in 1791) baking, especially “quick breads”, changed, and modern American waffles are no longer made with yeast. To get a more authentic “Regency” flavor, one has to try a recipe similar to  Belgian waffles, or Brussels waffles. These are generally, but not always, lighter, thicker, and crispier and have larger pockets compared to other waffle varieties. Despite their name, ‘Brussels waffles’ were actually invented in Ghent in 1839. They were introduced to America by restaurateur Maurice Vermersch, who sold his Brussels waffles under the name “Bel-Gem Waffles” at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair.

Early 19th Century Raised Waffles (Makes about 14 waffles)

Ingredients Measure Weight
Whole wheat flour*, divided 2 cups 7.5 oz. (200g)
All purpose flour, divided 1 cup 3.75 oz. (100g)
Brown sugar, firmly packed 1 tablespoon ½ oz. (14g)
Salt 1 teaspoon 1/6 oz (5g)
Butter, melted ¼ cup (1/2 stick) 2 oz. (56g)
Active dry yeast 2 ¼ tsp (1 pkg) ¼ oz (14 g)
Milk or water, warm (105 degrees F) 2 cups (1 pint) 1 lb.
Large eggs 2 1.5 oz.

* Whole white wheat flour is ideal

Directions

  1. Combine 1 cup whole wheat and ½ cup all purpose flour, brown sugar, salt, butter and yeast in a large mixer bowl. Stir in the milk and beat on low speed for 1 minute. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute more. Add the remaining flour and beat until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Let stand at 75 to 80 degrees F., covered (unsealed lid), for 4 hours or overnight (refrigerate, if overnight).
  2. When ready to bake, beat the eggs into the mixture, Heat a waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s directions. Pour 1/3 cup batter into each segment of the hot iron. Bake until golden brown; (baking time will vary with the type of iron used). Serve immediately with honey or jam.
Used by permission
The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition by Mary Gunderson, History Cooks® 2003. historycooks.com

 


 Historical information from Wikipedia.com

 

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