Find of the Week: Communion Wafer Iron, a Precursor to the Waffle Iron

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Every Friday we team up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you something unique from our city's past.  Here in the deep south, it is very common to find a waffle house.  Like city of Oz's yellow brick road, Waffle House stands as a bright yellow beacons of promise and prosperity, albeit the promise of a comforting waffle after hangover.

Long after the greeks toasted cakes and before Belgium perfected them, waffles were a thing.
Waffles have even made it into modern safety practices.  In fact, FEMA's Waffle House Index asses the severity of weather by monitoring the closures of local waffle houses in times of bad weather.

Enough of my rant on cousin of pancakes!  The truth is that waffle making has not always been so advanced and there simply wouldn't have been one single waffle to grace the breakfast nook, had it not been for today's find out of the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Sarah Duggan is the Classical Institute of the South Coordinator and Research Curator fo the Historic New Orleans.  Today she tells us about a recent acquisition to the HNOC, a communion wafer iron.

"We acquired it in 2016 and it was featured in our exhibit called The Founding Era and it is a communion wafer iron used at the Ursuline convent in the french quarter," says Duggan.

Though the iron doesn't boast much in terms of providing fluffiness, it is a prototype for the pockets of maple syrup love to arrive in the coming ages.

The wafer iron was made in the 18th century and just like today, waffle irons made great wedding gifts.

There are many cases of food irons throughout human history with Austrian, German and French immigrants bringing them over to America.  During the beginning of the American republic, there are even irons that have the Great Seal of the United States embossed on them.

Duggan says, "they could be sacred of secular. This one is used to make communion hosts for catholic mass."

Adorning the metal details of the communion wafer iron of New Orleans in question, are a crucifix and three nails.  Three letters are also part of the design; the IHS monogram.

"The IHS monogram is sometimes associated with the Society of Jesus. It's the first three letters of Jesus' name in greek. Iota Eta Sigma, transliterated into the roman alphabet," says Duggan.

The Ursuline nuns used just flour and water to make the wafers, which is an age old recipe that is still dictated today under catholic guidelines.  However, I like to imagine that because these wafers were made by the hands of nuns who came to New Orleans and provided education to young women across society, that perhaps some of that passion rubbed off on the flavor.  Perhaps you could taste the craftsmanship and dedication.

However, Duggan says that was probably not the case and the wafers probably didn't taste much different from the ones today.

"Maybe they had more of an earthy smokey taste because they were cooked over an open hearth. It's certainly possible that they might have had a little ash flavor in them."

It is age old that food and the methods used to make it, are a large part of the composition of New Orleans.

A crisp wafer may not have been a pallet for butter and Aunt Jemima, but it is a glorious start of something grand; the same can be said for any modern breakfast.

"It shows a very physical and personal connection to the liturgical rights, connecting those religious traditions to broader food ways, food production, early technology," says Sarah Duggan.

To get a lesson in history, make sure you tune in every Friday to see what we find out of the Historical New Orleans Collection.



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