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Batter up

Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 5/27/21

With the weekend coming up many of us are looking forward to activities like doing yardwork, spending time with the family or trying to master hitting a golf ball with that pesky two iron.

But …

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Batter up

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With the weekend coming up many of us are looking forward to activities like doing yardwork, spending time with the family or trying to master hitting a golf ball with that pesky two iron.

But for some of us we also get the opportunity to forego the weekday breakfast of wolfing down a corn muffin or ordering one of those prefab egg sandwiches from a fast-food drive-thru window. On weekend mornings we get to eat maple syrup covered comfort food with a choice of pancakes or waffles.

The early ancestor of the modern pancake goes back to, well, our early ancestors. Archeologists have uncovered remains of Stone Age tribes that indicate that they ate a crude version of pancakes. They made a batter of ferns, cattails and water before dripping it on greased rocks in the fire pit. While it does not sound delicious, I guess it was a good alternative to roasted mastodon toes.

Ancient Romans and Greeks took a break from building catapults and spears to put on their tunics and sit down to a meal of pancakes made from a batter of curdled milk, wheat flour and honey. Romans became so fond of eating pancakes that vendors began selling them from wagons in courtyards.

This early model of a food court was extremely popular as spectators grabbed a few before heading into the coliseum to watch men fight to the death or be consumed by ravenous wild animals. We can almost imagine hearing a pancake hawker yell “Hey get your pancakes here. No better way to watch a gladiator impale a captured Gaul than munching on a pancake.”

Colonists in America turned to a pancake-like meal that they called flapjacks or johnnycakes. Made from molasses, milk and a grainy substance known as Indian meal, this combination fortified our founding fathers. Flapjacks provided them with the energy to conquer regions of land and, in many cases, also conquer the Native tribes that made the mistake of teaching them how to make Indian meal.

The waffle was produced decades after the pancake because it required an iron honeycomb skillet to cook it. Known as the waffle iron, it was first manufactured in the 13th century. With its honeycomb partitions it was the perfect receptor to hold honey, molasses, syrup or fruit.

The first United States patent for a waffle iron was granted to Cornelius Swarthout in 1869. Like many inventions, others soon tried to improve on the patented design. In 1911, Thomas Stackbeck, an employee at General Electric, invented the first electric waffle iron that soon became an item used in many American households.

When first introduced, General Electric gobbled up all the publicity and profits. Stackbeck is mostly forgotten although there are some who credit him with inventing the phrase “Stackbeck of waffles or pancakes.” Nowadays we just refer to it as a stack.

Making the batter for pancakes or waffles was too time consuming for a typical hurried breakfast. With the increase of households that had a refrigerator with a freezer it was only a matter of time until somebody developed a shortcut.

In 1953, the first frozen waffles popped up in supermarket freezer sections. Originally called a “froffle,” as in frozen waffle, they became a breakfast staple after 1970 when Kellogg bought the concept. Their original radio spot that used the tagline “Gimme my Froffle” failed to get any traction.

A Kellogg advertising executive witnessed two colleagues fight over a once-frozen waffle fresh from a toaster. When one of them grabbed the waffle, she heard the other guy say, “Let go of my froffle.” Running back to her office, and knowing the egglike flavor of the frozen waffle, she coined the now popular tag line, “Leggo my Eggo!” Soon thereafter that phrase became part of advertising history.

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