The Humble Doughnut

Andy convinced me to share a small order of doughnuts on National Doughnut Day a few weeks ago, on June 5th. I had not eaten a single doughnut for several years because I’m trying to lose weight. I have Andy to blame for my “falling off the wagon”. Doughnuts-01He said I should make the most of my experience by researching this common everyday pastry.

Right off the bat, we have a spelling conundrum. The traditional, globally accepted spelling is “doughnut”. On the other hand, my Webster’s dictionary notes that “donut” is an accepted variant. People who live in the United States mostly use the “donut” spelling.

Why didn’t I write this post on June 5th, National Doughnut Day?  Well, it’s because National Doughnut Day is always celebrated on the first Friday of June.  Of course, that coincides with Floral Friday. Perhaps I could have done a doughnut themed flower arrangement.

National Doughnut Day was started by the Salvation Army, in June of 1938, to honor the men and women who served doughnuts to soldiers during the first World War.

Exactly, what is a doughnut?  It’s a torus shaped pastry that is either deep fried or baked then sweetened and/or decorated. What is a torus?  A torus is a geometrical Doughnuts-00Torusshape that is a “closed surface defined as the product of two circles.” Mathematicians describe a torus as a “quotient of the Cartesian Plane under the identifications (x, y) ~ (x+1, y) ~ (x, y+1).”  Or you might just think of the standard lifesaver ring at your local swimming pool.

Marketers estimate that North Americans eat more than 12,000,000,000 doughnuts every year. Of that number, people in the United States consume 10,000,000,000; Canadians eat a little over 1,000,000,000; and Mexicans munch the rest.

Supposedly, fossil doughnuts have been discovered in the cooking “middens” of prehistoric Native American village sites. I’m skeptical about this one.

Europeans have eaten small cakes shaped like our modern Bismarcks for hundreds of years.  In Holland, a treat called “olykoeks” (oil cakes) was enjoyed. The mother of a ship captain, Elizabeth Gregory, prepared circular olykoeks that contained nutmeg, lemon rind, and cinnamon to help ward off scurvy for her son and his sailors during Doughnuts-02CptHansonGregorylong voyages. Like a good mom, she also gave the ship’s cook the recipe for her special olykoeks.

The captain, named Hanson Gregory, is credited with inventing the doughnut with a hole.  The legend goes something like this:  On June 22, 1847, Captain Gregory was at the helm just about to enjoy one of his mom’s olykoeks when a storm suddenly erupted.  In order to not drop the treat, Gregory impaled the olykoek onto the hub of the steering wheel. Voile’ he had accidentally created a new pastry. The captain determined that the punctured pastry was fun to eat and convenient, too. So he ordered the ship’s cook to prepare future olykoeks with holes.

One other telling of the story says that the captain’s mother originally made her olykoeks with a nut in the center. After forming the dough into a circular shape, Elizabeth pressed a nut in the middle so the dough cooked around the nut. This less colorful version of the story claims that Captain Gregory simply removed the nuts from the centers of his olykoeks.Doughnuts-03

The name “doughnut” is controversial, too. The word was first defined in 1809 by the writer Washington Irving. He described a small pastry as “balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.” Legends claim the name refers to the nuts placed inside the dough-ball to prevent undercooking of the food. Another claim says the name derived from “dough knots”, one early popular shape of olykoeks.

Doughnuts first became a public favorite after the first World War. New York Doughnuts-04businessman Adolph Levitt invented the automated doughnut machine. Levitt’s contraption was used at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. The pastries were advertised as “the food hit of the Century Of Progress”. Their popularity spread across the continent and has never diminished.

The most popular doughnut chain shops include Krispie Kreme, founded in 1937; Dunkin Donuts began in 1948 as “Open Kettle” until its name change in 1950; Winchell’s Donuts opened their first location in 1948.

Doughnuts-05iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness again quotes Oscar Wilde. “Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole!”


About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in cultural highlights, History and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Humble Doughnut

  1. BAP Blog says:

    My infinite desire for a doughnut, generated by your thoughts, are perfectly captured by the toroidal pastry’s shape.

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