As a Pennsylvania historian, I have always been fascinated with the early American iron industry in southeastern Pennsylvania where our iron ore mines were excavated by Colonists to meet the growing demand for the local iron furnaces. However, these iron foundries had to meet the needs of our local PA Dutch farmers before they exported pig iron abroad to England. Foremost among these needs were the cast iron five plate stoves to heat our early American farm houses attached to the rear wall of a central located fireplace in which they cooked upon an open hearth.
Among the Americana foods prepared by the PA Dutch were waffles made on a long handle fireplace waffle iron, which were often in the shape of a heart with diamond or tulips cast within the iron plates. A laborious way of cooking, batter-poured waffles made one by one over an open hearth heated with logs was such, but today, these 18th Century antique waffle irons are rarely found unless they are in PA Dutch museums.
But after the iron foundries started casting iron stoves to replace open hearth fireplaces, waffle irons made for 19th Century cast iron kitchen stoves became very practical for housewives to use. These later circular designed waffle irons were very popular with farm housewives who made a great number of waffles to feed their large farm families who consumed these chicken and waffle dinners eagerly. It was, nonetheless, a simple task of pouring waffle batter in an artistic waffle iron heating it on the wood fired kitchen range and then flipping the plates around to heat the other side, although a lengthy task. Considered “child’s play,” the entire family could get in on the action.
But the cast iron plates of the waffle iron had to be greased with lard, less the wood fired stove might cause the waffle to be burned, a household task that was soon managed by all the family who loved eating waffles. With different condiments, including butter sprinkled with brown sugar, Chicken and waffles were best made with a creamy chicken sauce that enhanced the flavoring. In the post Civil War period, there was hardly a PA Dutch farm family that did not have two or three locally made cast iron waffle irons from one of our nearby Berks or Lehigh County furnaces.
In fact, waffle making was so popular among the PA Dutch farming community, churches quite often used this dish as a favorite reason to enjoy fellowship with members. Sometimes, though less likely was the alternative choice, “turkey and waffles,” but any talented “pot-luck” cook, as discussed in prior article with pot-pie variations, could fashion with other meats or with a gourmet topping for her waffle dish. In the accompanying photo Mabel Wetzel of Lehigh County is shown pouring batter from a period crock in a later type 19th Century waffle iron and heated the waffle iron on a post Civil War era Orr and Panther Stove made in nearby Reading, PA. Note the handled crock with a spout made specifically just to pour waffle batter.
With so many iron furnaces smelting iron in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, there was no shortage for individuals to buy artistically designed waffle irons, some of them were divided in four sections, and sometimes with hearts in relief not just diamond and playing card symbols. Making waffles to eat when extra guests arrived to visit was a typical Dutch hospitality treat for everyone to enjoy and a Pennsylvania Deitsch treat long before we had modern electric household waffle irons.