Sweetzels Blog 09/24/13
Unlike other parts of the country there are five seasons in Pennsylvania: winter, spring, summer, fall and spiced wafers. Spiced wafer season begins in late August when area supermarkets start to stock the bright orange and black boxes of spiced wafers, thus signaling that cooler weather is on its way.
Shortly after Thanksgiving spiced wafers disappear from store shelves. But by the time area trees have shaken loose the final leaves, most families have gone through a couple boxes of these seasonal treats. In fact, during the four to five months you can find spiced wafers in local grocery stories, they outsell all other cookies with the exception of Oreos.
What is a spiced wafer? In taste and texture it is similar to a ginger snap. While both are flavored with ginger and molasses, spiced wafers, made with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, have a smoother taste with less of a ginger punch. Spiced wafers are a striking departure from the majority of super-sweet cookies found in grocery stores. They are a revival of colonial era style baked goods. Harkening back to a time when sweeteners like molasses and maple syrup were more readily available than cane sugar.
Every day, bakeries try to outdo one another with increasingly dizzy combinations of ingredients. Unlike a triple-chocolate-espresso cookie with a pistachio-butter cream icing, the spiced wafer is a simple but strangely satisfying cookie that works best dunked in a glass of milk, cup of tea or, in keeping with the season, a mug of hot apple cider. Sometimes comfortable and familiar wins out over new and surprising.
While the ingredients used in a spiced wafer are not particularly fancy, you can taste their quality. Sweetzels Spiced Wafers, located just outside Philadelphia, has used the same supplier of molasses, from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, for generations. Bob Brazillo, the owner of Sweetzels, could save money using a cheaper grade of ingredients, but the fury of loyal spiced wafer lovers would descend upon him if their favorite cookies tasted any different. We know what to expect when we bite into the first spiced wafer of the season, and we don't want to be disappointed. It took nearly one hundred years for Philadelphia to permit a skyscraper to be built taller than the statue of William Penn on top of City Hall. We certainly don't want our favorite fall cookie to change, not even its somewhat alarming orange and black box.
I think part of the appeal of a spiced wafer is that we don't eat them all year long. While the combination of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and molasses just feels right on an autumn evening, that is not the only reason they are a seasonal cookie. I think we prefer having foods that come along just at certain times of the year. The fact that spiced wafers appear, vanish and reappear according to the calendar helps us mark the seasons, acting as a touchstone to remind us of the seasons that have come before, and in a way, reassuring us that they will come again. When we remember the taste of a beloved food from childhood, we are recollecting not only a flavor but the time and place and, most importantly, the people with whom we shared it.
Click Here To Shop For Sweetzels