Waffles in the City

I just texted my teenagers to send me their photos of the waffles they’ve eaten — a strange request, but within minutes I got these:

waffle-collagepro

Even today, in the modern world of cooking shows, celebrity chefs, and international foods on every block, the waffle remains such a delight that people feel the need to document them on their phones.

Where did this waffle craze come from?

The early Dutch residents in New York made similar treats using irons like these, called wafer irons. These were thin and crispy and served beautifully rolled up.

Wafer iron, ca. 1720-1820

Wafer iron, ca. 1720-1820, from the Folk Art Collection of Elie Nadelman, New-York Historical Society.

But the waffles we gobble up from the street carts today are deliciously thick, with a slight crunch on the outside, served with all kinds of yummy toppings. When did they become so popular?

The answer is 50 years ago, right here at the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Queens! Part of the World’s Fair was dedicated to showing visitors different cultures. It was in Belgian Village that Maurice and Rose Vermersch and their daughter MariePaule set up one of their waffle stands. They called their product “Brussels waffles” until realizing that people didn’t know Brussels as the capital of Belgium…so they changed the name to “Bel-Gem” waffles, which quickly became “Belgian waffles” to the world.

1964-1965 World’s Fair, New York, N.Y. Belgian Village

1964-1965 World’s Fair, New York, N.Y. Belgian Village, New-York Historical Society

The Vermersch family served more than 2,500 waffles each day, topped with whipped cream, powdered sugar and sliced strawberries. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the World’s Fair here in New York so there are many people reminiscing about their experience at the fair. Plenty recall eating the amazing waffles!

“There was absolutely no polite way to eat it,” said Richard Post, 54, of Lawrence, L.I., who organizes World’s Fair conventions. “If you bit into it, you’d be wiping cream out of your nose.”

October 1964 photo provided by worldsfairphotos.com, four girls eat Belgian Waffles on the Grounds of the World’s Fair

In this October 1964 photo provided by worldsfairphotos.com, four girls eat Belgian Waffles on the Grounds of the World’s Fair in the Queens Borough of New York. (AP Photo/Bill Cotter)

If you visit us at the New-York Historical Society this summer, stop by the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library on the second floor to see It’s a Small World’ of Tomorrow: Remembering the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. This small case of memorabilia will be on exhibit through the summer from Tuesday through Friday until 3 pm.

Oh! And in case you want to make these at home…here’s the original recipe thanks to some sleuthing by Queens Tribune reporter William Brent.

Belgian waffle recipe

Information gathered from www.bigstory.ap.org and www.worldsfaircommunity.org.

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