Archive for Thursday, November 6, 2008

Doughnuts larded in myth, history

November 6, 2008

For many of us, it is a forbidden food. These luscious treats are addictive and, try as many of us do, they are hard to turn down. Of course we are justified in our addiction, they taste wonderful and can join with a simple cup of coffee to turn despair into happiness. In my case, as I enjoy this “culinary sin” I know that I will have to pay with my penitence with exercise or a lighter lunch.

What am I talking about? I, like millions of others around the world, enjoy snarfing a doughnut. Yes, I am aware that donuts have triple-digit calories, yet sometimes many of us just can’t resist its allure. Around the world, multi-millions of donuts are enjoyed daily.

Did you know that there is a “National Donut Day” observed on the first Friday in June. Now, this is a holiday that I can really look forward to. Doughnuts are sold to benefit the Salvation Army. The Chicago Salvation Army started the project in 1938 as a way to raise money to help those still suffering from the Depression. It doesn’t get much better than enjoying a donut while justifying your actions by pointing out that it is for a good cause.

I didn’t realize it, but the simple doughnut has a long and fascinating history, which may date back to pre-historic times. Probably the original doughnut would resemble the treat we know as twists, but it was still sweet, fried and probably loaded with calories.

One source pointed out that fossilized bits of what might have been a doughnut were found during excavations of Native American sites in North America. Another source said that the Romans had a similar treat. Apparently, we have loved doughnuts from our earliest days.

Evidently, the Dutch brought doughnuts with them when they came to the New World. They landed in New Amsterdam and soon started enjoying a comfort treat from home called “oily cakes.”

The Dutch soon added the fried doughnut to the menu, according to a highly unlikely story. As the legend goes, a cow kicked over a bucket of boiling oil onto pastry mix. This created the first fried treat. I have got to wonder just why someone had pastry dough on the floor adjacent to a fire and why the cow was in the same area? Anyway, that’s the legend and the popularity of what we now know as doughnuts began.

The legend is embellished with the story of Hansen Gregory, captain of a spice-hauling ship, who claimed he invented the hole in the doughnut. His mother made a deep-fried dough, which she sent along to provide treats for her son and his crew. I like her idea since she sent the treats, which utilized nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon rinds as a way to prevent illness. Anyway, to conserve dough, Hansen created a round treat with a hole in the middle, which became the first modern, round doughnut.

There are many stories about how he created the doughnut. One is that he wrapped the dough around the spokes of a wheel. Another is that he used a pepper tin to punch out the middle. Probably the most unique is that he came up with the idea after a visit with an angel. Maybe the latter story is why he was executed as a witch. Anyway, he is honored with a plaque in the town of Clam Cove, Maine.

The doughnut found its way into literature during the 19th century. Washington Irving mentioned the twist type of doughnut in one of his books, “History of New York.” Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the book “Farmer Boy” pointed out that Almonzo’s mother made doughnuts. In case you’ve forgotten, Almonzo became Laura’s husband.

It took a war to make doughnuts an American standard. In 1917, volunteers started serving doughnuts to American soldiers who were serving in France. The troops soon developed a love for doughnuts, which stayed with them when they returned home. Adolph Levitt invented the first doughnut machine in 1920.

The doughnut was named the “hit food of the century of progress” at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. Probably the most popular Kansas City Royals’ promotion was when fans got free doughnuts when the Royals had 12 or more hits. If you remember, the fans enjoyed chanting “doughnuts” when the hit total reached 11.

Despite pleas urging Americans to lose weight, the doughnut remains a popular treat. I know that doughnuts aren’t for those of us who have faced a lifelong battle with weight. Yet, I’m willing to occasionally stumble and enjoy one of the modern world’s best treats . . . a great glazed doughnut.

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