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Doughnuts Reel

Doughnut Day

Jun 3

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Dunking's an art. Don't let it soak so long. A dip and plop, in your mouth. Let it hang there too long, it'll get soft and fall off. It's all a matter of timing. Aw, I oughta write a book about it."

~ Clark Gable as Peter Warne in It Happened One Night, 1934

Do you dunk your doughnuts? Doughnuts have a disputed origin with several countries as claimants for being the first to develop this delicious treat. One of the earliest known recorded usage of the term in literature dates to American author Washington Irving's "History of New York" in which he described "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks." By the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair - which was billed as "A Century of Progress" - doughnuts, now with the characteristic hole, were given the lofty title of "Hit Food of the Century of Progress," because they were fresh and the automated machines made them quickly. The cheaply produced doughnuts became a staple of the working class during the Depression. 🍩

Doughnuts Reel

Doughnut Day came to pass, in part, due to the efforts of a doctor in the military in the first World War who sought to brighten the day of the wounded soldiers he worked on. On his first day to the Military Base, he purchased 8 dozen doughnuts and gave one to each soldier he worked on. After giving one to Lieutenant General Samuel Geary, Geary decided to start a fundraiser, allowing the young doctor, Morgan Pett, to continue to provide doughnuts to his patients.

This fundraiser began working together with the Salvation Army who, after a fact-finding mission, determined that many needs of the soldiers could be met by creating social centers to provide all sorts of amenities, doughnuts. The Salvation Army sent 250 volunteers to France to help put these huts together, which soon became a mainstay of military life. Due to the majority of the workers being female, the Salvation Army workers started to be known as “Doughnut Dollies.”

The origin of the doughnuts is much disputed.  One theory suggests they were invented in North America by Dutch settlers, and in the 19th century, doughnuts were sometimes referred to as one kind of oliekoek (a Dutch word literally meaning "oil cake"), a "sweetened cake fried in fat."

According to doughnut anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. 

A competing theory on their origin came to light in 2013, appearing to predate all previous claims, when a recipe for "dow nuts" was found in a book of recipes and domestic tips written in 1800 by the wife of Baron Thomas Dimsdale, who transcribed a recipe from acquaintance for the cooking instructions of a local delicacy, the "Hertfordshire nut."

By the mid-19th century, the doughnut looked and tasted like today’s doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.

Another probable apocryphal history of the doughnut provides a loose association with Clan Gregor!  Clan Gregor descendant and New Englander Elizabeth Gregory used cinnamon and other spices from her son, Captain Hanson Gregory's merchant ship to create an incredible fried dough that he could take on his voyages.  It seems that in June of 1847, Captain Gregory devised an ingenious plan to help keep his Mom’s pastries cooking all the way through and to have a shape which allowed him keep his hands on the ship’s wheel during storms – he used a tin pepper box lid to cut a hole in the middle of the “dough-nut”, a functional alteration that defines the doughnut to this day.


For more about Captain Gregory's claim to the invention of the doughnut as we know it today, click his statue (with doughnuts).

Doughnuts Reel
Doughnuts Reel

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