July 2nd is National Chocolate Wafer Day.
Most people who have eaten chocolate wafer cookies think they’re the invention of Nabisco, which has sold its Famous Chocolate Wafers cookies (photo #2) since 1924.
But the wafers are much older. While chocolate was a drink for centuries (check out the history of chocolate), by the end of the 17th century some cooks began to put the cocoa powder (ground cacao beans) into soft desserts, like pudding.
While we cannot name the first baker of chocolate cookies, we know that in the 1800s, chocolate was being integrated into cookies and cakes—and that the cookies of the time were simple (like gingersnaps and shortbread). The cookies were baked at home or purchased from a bakery.
By the time that Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers appeared on shelves, packaged cookies had been around for at least two decades. Other brands were available from the corner grocer’s by the late 1890s.
Busy middle-class homemakers were grateful for ready-to-eat foods. If you weren’t sufficiently affluent to afford a cook to bake your cookies, you could still afford to buy them from the bakery or the grocer.
Nabisco, then called the National Biscuit Company, was formed by a merger of bakeries in 1898. By 1901, it was selling packaged sugar wafers under the brand name, Nabisco (the company ultimately changed its name to Nabisco).
Among other packaged cookies, the company produced Barnum’s Animal Crackers (1902), Cameos (1910), Lorna Doones (1912), Oreos (1912), prior to the launch of Famous Chocolate Wafers in 1924.
The first chocolate wafer cookies were packaged in a tin along with ginger wafers and sugar wafers. The chocolate wafers were so much in demand that when Nabisco transitioned to cardboard packaging around 1930, the other flavors were dropped and the Famous Chocolate Wafer boxes were printed with the recipe for icebox cake (photo #2—here’s the history of icebox cake).
In those days as now, home economists developed recipes that appeared on packages to encourage more consumption. One of the first published recipe on the Famous Chocolate Wafers box for icebox cake.
Finally, it was simple for a homemaker to present a “chocolate cake” without turning on the oven—a boon in the warmer months. Chocolalte wafers were simply stacked alternating with layers of whipped cream.
Kept in the icebox overnight, the moisture in the whipped cream softened the crispy cookies, turning their texture cake-like. Other recipes suggested crumbling the wafers as crusts for pies and cheesecakes.
Although the wafers have been popular for so many years, they have been pushed off the shelves by newer entries. The wafers can be a little hard to find, but are sold on Amazon and at Walmart.