Monday, April 26, 2021

Doughnuts - An American tradition

 by Cindy Regnier

Doughnuts have been around a long long time, making our mouths water and leaving a sweet residue on the fingers that absolutely must be licked off. But where did they come from? The earliest origins to the modern doughnuts are generally traced back to the olykoek ("oil(y) cake") Dutch settlers brought with them to early New York. These doughnuts closely resembled the ones we now know, except that they didn’t yet have a ring shape or a hole in the middle.

One of the earliest mentions of "doughnut" was in Washington Irving's 1809 book, A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. “Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough-nuts, or oly koeks: a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, excepting in genuine Dutch families.”

Anthropologists say the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. By the mid-19th century, the doughnut looked and tasted like today's doughnut, and was considered an American food

So where did the ring shape come from? Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old. As the story goes, Gregory was unhappy with the greasiness of doughnuts and with the raw center, which was difficult to get cooked through with all the dough around it. Supposedly he punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship's tin pepper box eliminating the doughy middle and making them easier to carry (on your fingers!) He later taught the technique to his mother. Smithsonian Magazine tells us that his mother, Elizabeth Gregory, "made a wicked deep-fried dough that cleverly used her son's spice cargo of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with lemon rind," and "put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through."

By now you have probably realized that I’m a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder books and many of my blog topics originate from them. As a child I remember thinking how wonderful it must have been for young Almanzo to have doughnuts as a rather common treat. In Laura's book, Farmer Boy, 

  it's obvious Almanzo loves his mother's doughnuts. He even fills his pockets with them before heading outside to work. The book says Mother Wilder liked her doughnuts to turn over by themselves so she twisted them. Mother kept a fresh supply in the doughnut jar for snacking.

To quote Farmer Boy “Almanzo took the biggest doughnut from the pan and bit off its crisp end. Mother was rolling out the golden dough, slashing it into long strips, rolling and doubling and twisting the strips. Her fingers flew; you could hardly see them. The strips seemed to twist themselves under her hands, and to leap into the big copper kettle of swirling hot fat. Plump! they went to the bottom, sending up bubbles. Then quickly they came popping up to float and slowly swell, till they rolled themselves over, their pale golden backs going into the fat and their brown bellies rising out of it. They rolled over, Mother said, because they were twisted. Some women made a new-fangled shape, round, with a hole in the middle. But round doughnuts wouldn’t turn themselves over. Mother didn’t have time to waste turning doughnuts; it was quicker to twist them." 

Doesn’t that make you want to taste them? Mrs. Wilder was my inspiration when I made homemade doughnuts for the first time. Store-bought doesn’t even compare, IMHO. You can search the internet to find recipes for self-turning doughnuts or old fashioned doughnuts. Most call for buttermilk or sour cream which the Wilder’s would have had in plentiful supply. I even found one that uses mashed potatoes in the interest of making them stay fresh longer (not sure if that’s true or not!)

Thank you for once again indulging my LIW obsession. Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever made fried doughnuts and how you liked them. Who knows? Maybe you’re ready to go try it after reading this. Let me know how it goes.

Doughnut tree at my son's wedding

Rand Stafford isn't looking for true love. He'd ridden that trail until his fiancée left him with a shattered heart. What he needs now is a wife to help him care for his orphan nieces. Desperate, he sends an advertisement to a Baltimore newspaper and hopes for the best.
Fleeing her former employer who would use her to further his unlawful acts, a newspaper advertisement reads like the perfect refuge to Carly Blair. The idea of escaping the city, the intrigue, and the danger to hide herself on a cattle ranch in Kansas is her best shot for freedom.
But its sanctuary comes with a price—a husband. While marrying a man she doesn't know or love means sacrificing her dreams, it's better than being caught by the law.
Or is it?


  1. Thanks for posting! My husband loves doughnuts, but he is quite picky when it comes to what a "real" doughnut is!!! No fancy yeast doughnuts, no toppings although if there's nothing else he might allow them to be sugared, and none of those things that are plopped out of a press into the hot fat!!! (I don't blame him there.) I've made them before, of course his mom made the best! And I think I might try Mrs. Wilder's trick sometime!!

  2. Hi Connie - My hubby is picky too but he always says that's why he picked me! Mrs. Wilder must have been a pretty smart lady! Good luck with your next batch of doughnuts.

  3. Thanks for an interesting read, Cindy! I gave up sugar a couple of years ago and I sure do miss things like doughnuts. At least I can enjoy reading about them :-)

  4. Hi Laura - yep I get it. A gluten intolerance keeps me from enjoying things like this. We sure do tend to miss what we can't have. Good for you, though! You're sweet enough without added sugar.

  5. Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of my favorite authors! My Mom made homemade doughnuts when we were kids. I sure wish I had learned how she made them and what recipe she used. I didn't have bought doughnuts until I was much older.

  6. Susan - lucky you! Find your own recipe. I bet you could do it and make some memories as well!