Steve Woods

Donuts : A History

In What Day is it? on September 14, 2009 at 12:40 pm
A beautiful cream-filled donut...

A beautiful cream-filled donut...

In our early Colonial days, Dutch immigrants coming to New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) brought over a special fried cake known as olykoeks, or “oily cakes.” Consisting of a thick cake dough deep fried in oil, it hit the spot in the harsh winters as it stored well and filled you up with needed carbs.

In 1847 Elizabeth Gregory, the mother of Hanson Gregory, a New England ship captain, combined the traditional deep fried oily cake recipe with nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon rinds, adding flavors to the mix and happiness to the faces of all who tried it.  A staple of survival began its journey as a treat! The lemon rinds, by the way, helped keep scurvy from making an appearance on the ship. There was an ongoing issue with the middle of the dough not cooking through, so Elizabeth began adding hazel nuts and/or walnuts to that area. This delicious center became known as the doughnut and the word stuck, even when doughnut holes were invented to remove the problem of the center’s lack of cooperation in cooking through.

Elizabeth’s son Hanson is credited with the invention of the donut hole, although there is a bit of dispute over this claim. There are a bit of mythology surrounding this event. One story is that that during a rough storm, Hanson pushed a fresh donut onto one of the wooden spokes of the ship’s steering wheel. Another story is that an angel came to Hanson in a dream, carrying a plate of donuts with holes. After relaying this great information to the townsfolk, Hansen was burned at the stake for witchcraft.

Adolph Levitt, an American refugee from Russia, invented the very first donut making machine in 1920. This allowed donuts to be uniform in size, quality, and flavor.  This was integral to the donut taking off in popularity across America. By 1925, Levitt was earning over $25 Million a year from his dough-pulling and baking invention. Kelly Grant founded the Mel-O-Cream company in 1932 and began delivering factory-made donuts to America’s growing number of corner stores and markets.

The World’s Fair in 1934 Chicago billed the doughnut as “the hit food of the Century of Progress.” The addition of an attraction showing the doughnuts being made by machines underscored this idea.  That same year Clark Gable taught Claudette Colbert how to dunk her donut in the classic movie “It Happened One Night.”

The popularity of the doughnut all over America soon led to companies like Krispy Kreme ( founded in Massachusetts in 1937, promising a donut based on a “special recipe” and donut-making process.

As cooking techniques improved, the hole-less doughnut made its re-emergence on the food scene, and soon thereafter doughnuts found themselves filled with a variety of creams and jellies.

Despite a fat content of typically 3 grams plus and over 200 calories each, doughnuts are consumed at a rate of over 10 Billion a year. The most popular fillings for cream-filled doughnuts? Chocolate and vanilla, of course!

To make a cream-filled doughnut at home:

  1. […] Two days ago was Cream-filled Doughnut Day, while today is Collect Rocks […]

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