Mmm … Doughnuts! National Doughnut Day
Ever wonder where this sweet, circular treat (Homer Simpson’s fave!) came from?
The Early Years
Doughnuts have been around for hundreds of years. Archaeologists turned up several fossilized fried cakes with holes in the center in prehistoric ruins in the Southwestern United States. How these early Native Americans prepared their doughnuts is still unknown.
Most historians talk about doughnut history as starting in the mid-19th century, when the Dutch wrote down their recipes for “olykoeks,” or “oily cakes,” which were balls of sweet dough fried in pork fat, with apples, prunes or raisins in the middle. Soon after, the Pilgrims brought the tasty snack with them to America. There was just one little problem with doughnuts back then – when the olykoeks were pulled out of the hot oil, the centers were hardly ever cooked through.
Hole In One
So how did doughnuts get their modern-day name? There’s a story about a woman from New England – Elizabeth Gregory – who was known for her yummy olykoeks. Her secret was to add a hint of nutmeg and fill the center with hazelnuts or walnuts. She even had a special name for her creation: dough-nuts. (She may have got the name from an instruction in the recipe, which said to make “little nuts of dough” and place them into the hot oil.
And how did doughnuts get the whole in the center? Well, the story of Elizabeth Gregory continues, though there are a few different endings. In one, she gives her son – a sea captain – some dough-nuts to take with him on one of his ocean journeys. But when a storm started at sea, the captain found himself having a hard time holding the treat and steering the ship. So he impaled the dough-nut on one of the steering wheel’s spokes, creating a hole in the middle of it.
Another version of the story says the captain simply didn’t like the nuts his mother put in the center of the dough-nuts, so he poked them out, leaving an empty whole in the middle. Whatever the real story is, there were benefits to making doughnuts with holes. They cooked more evenly and their unique shape made them extremely popular.
During World War I, doughnuts had already achieved status as an American favorite. Young American men fighting oversees were served doughnuts by grateful Frenchmen as a reminder of the food back home.
By the 1920s doughnuts were being mass-produced, mostly as a snack in theaters. To satisfy the growing demand for doughnuts in one New York neighborhood, a Russian named Adolph Levitt created the first doughnut machine. By 1934, the same year that the World's Fair in Chicago declared the doughnut "the food hit of the Century Of Progress," Levit was pulling down twenty-five-million dollars annually for the sale of his doughnut machines to bakeries.
Doughnut chains like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Dunkin’ Doughnuts started popping up in the 1940s and 50s.
In 1998, Winchell's House of Donuts in Pasadena created the world's largest doughnut to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The gigantic apple fritter weighed 5,000 pounds and was 95 feet wide.