Marco Werman: 50 years ago in 1964, a few things happened that changed our country. Among them, the Beatles landed in America, Diet Pepsi was introduced, and on this day 50 years ago, the 1964 World's Fair opened in Queens, New York. Marie Paule Vermersch remembers being at the fair with her mom and dad. They worked at the Belgium exhibit in a little Tudor-style house. Ms. Vermersch, tell us what you were doing 50 years ago.
Marie Paule Vermersch: We introduced the authentic Belgian waffle, called at the time "Brussel Waffle," which is a typical specialty of Brussels, this recipe we have. There's many different types of waffles in Belgium and at the last moment, my parents, who had a little bit of time to observe American tastes, my mother realized that at the time there was a little bit of ignorance still and she told me father it's not a good idea to call our waffle the Brussels waffle. I think some people might not be able to locate where the waffle comes from. So at the time, she told me father "Let's call it Belgian waffles."
Werman: That little tudor house that was selling Brussels waffles, it said on the sign at the time, that was on the grounds of Flushing Meadows in Queens, is that right?
Vermersch: Yes, and it was quite an experience.
Werman: Why was it such an experience?
Vermersch: Well, the American waffle, which has been known for a long time, the round, heavy, very doughy; when people started tasting our waffles they just couldn't believe it. From the time of opening at 10 o'clock, we would see endless, endless lines. People just couldn't believe how the waffles were light and crispy and fluffy, and actually in Belgium, my mother's family never served them with whipped cream and strawberries. Most often people would use powdered sugar. But again, my parents observing the American people having a sweet tooth, so they came up with the idea of fresh whipped cream and hand cut strawberries. The strawberries were a big problem because of how were we going to put strawberries that were sliced but not going to make a goop? My mother didn't want anything that would get the waffles soggy, so we had a team of 10 people constantly slicing strawberries because when you serve 500 waffles a day you need to slice a lot of strawberries.
Werman: Was that the key difference? That the Belgian waffles were really light and the American waffles were kind of doughy and heavy?
Vermersch: The Brussels waffle, the butter is very, very light. I will not divulge a couple of our secret ingredients but it's made from scratch and still today I make them the way my family has always done. The lighter the batter is, the quicker it cooks once it has touched the cast iron and the cast iron heats up 500 degrees, so the butter is heated so far that it gets crispy on the outside but the inside is still nice and soft. It's almost like air. People couldn't believe they could eat two or three waffles and that's because they're so light.
Werman: How much were these waffles selling for at the World's Fair when you first introduced them?
Vermersch: 99 cents.
Werman: Why do you think Belgian waffles became the waffle of the United States?
Vermersch: Because of the texture and the smell. The baby boomers still remember as a child going to the World's Fair and smelling it from far away. People were driven by the smell and that was because of one of the ingredients we put in there.
Werman: What was the ingredient that gives off that smell?
Vermersch: Won't tell you.
Werman: It's not vanilla, is it?
Vermersch: I can tell you many but not those two ingredients. I will not divulge those.
Werman: Marie Paule Vermersch, whose family introduced the Belgian waffle in New York City in 1964. Marie Paule, thanks so much.
Vermersch: Thank you very much, it has been nice speaking with you.
Werman: Oh well, Marie Paule's exact recipe will have to remain a mystery, but we found another tasty looking Belgian waffle recipe that we can share with you. That's at PRI.org.