Our Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) Auxiliary has made MHV waffles and vanilla sauce popular here at the museum. This rare treat is typically served only on our festival days, such as Canada Day, Pioneer Days, and Fall on the Farm. So there are relatively few opportunities to enjoy them.
When you visit the kitchen in the house attached to the Chortitz Housebarn at MHV, you will see a waffle iron permanently mounted in the stove top. This leads one to believe that waffles were likely a staple menu item at the turn of the previous century.
Their appeal has obviously continued. When my mother made waffles, they were the main course for our meal. We would eat them with a variety of toppings, such as syrup or fruit preserves. Bacon or sausage were normally served on the side, and then we would enjoy the last waffle with ice-cream for dessert. I suspect the ice-cream was a convenient substitute for the traditional vanilla sauce.
The waffle iron in our Chortitz house makes the waffle in a configuration of five hearts joined in the centre. The waffles we make at MHV during our festivals are the same shape but somewhat larger. They are baked over a fire, as was done in earlier times when homes didn’t necessarily have electricity to energize an electric appliance.
It seems our MHV waffles and vanilla sauce have also become quite popular at our local street festival, Summer in the City. Each year we pack up our waffle ovens, a fridge, a freezer, and many other supplies and utensils to bake waffles on the street for three days. Dozens of volunteers join in to bake the waffles and serve our customers. Our waffle booth was exceptionally busy for a good part of last weekend. As everybody got a freshly baked waffle, people sometimes waited up to 30 minutes when the lines were long. Some people treated themselves to a waffle every day of the festival. One individual arrived early on Friday morning during an unforeseen delay and was still willing to wait 2 1/2 hours for his waffle.
To make our waffles more interesting, we offered a variety of toppings: strawberries, blueberries, ice-cream, and of course the traditional vanilla sauce. When the festival ended on Sunday, we had sold 1,037 waffles, some with creative combinations of these toppings.
It might seem strange for a museum to be operating a concession stand at a street festival, as our primary purpose is to collect and preserve artifacts, and interpret the stories that come with those artifacts. However, the tourism trade, in which we have one foot firmly planted, would call our endeavour “experiential tourism.” People tend to find their tourism experiences more engaging through hands-on participation in an activity, as opposed to simply reading or viewing information.
This is what our Livery Barn Restaurant seeks to do daily between May 1 and September 30 by serving ethnic cuisine. This is why we have school children try their hand at washing clothes on a washboard or baking a batch of Schnetje in our hands-on Education Program.
Additionally, our waffle booth has become a great opportunity for us to contribute to Steinbach’s street festival and gain visibility in the community, while also generating some income for MHV.
If you missed your opportunity for a waffle at Summer in the City, be sure to visit MHV on one of our upcoming festival days: Canada Day, Pioneer Days, or Fall on the Farm. Don’t wait until next year’s street festival!