Thursday, May 23, 2024


By Mary Davis

“Twixt optimist and pessimist

The difference is droll;

The optimist the doughnut sees -

The pessimist the hole.”

A poem in a New York Newspaper, 1904

Either by McLandburgh Wilson or Oscar Wilde

People have been deep frying these tasty treats—in one form or another—for millennia. One of the earliest mentions of something that sounds like it could be a doughnut is described like this, “. . . cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried.” Leviticus 7:12, the Bible. Now, that might not be an actual doughnut, but when you fry cakes, that’s close enough to being a doughnut for this gal.

It’s hard to trace the history of doughnuts. Differing foodies give credit to Dutch, English, or German as the origin. When the Dutch came to Manhattan (then called New Amsterdam), they had a deep-fried sweet dough called olykoeks, a.k.a. oil balls. The English had a similar fried-dough treat. However, neither of these were the variety we think of with a hole in them.

Until 1847, doughnuts were hunks of deep-fried dough, often crispy on the outside with a doughy, uncooked center. A sixteen-year-old sailor Hanson Gregory on a lime-trading schooner claims he came up with the hole-in-the-center doughnut. He used the lid of a small pepper tin to cut out the center, removing what usually remained uncooked. Or, an alternate version claims, as the ship’s captain, Gregory requested something that he could put on the ship’s wheel while piloting through a storm, and a sailor came up with the hole in the doughnut. The story varies, but either way, Gregory is credited with the hole-in-the-middle invention. When he returned home to Maine and showed his mother, she began cooking them up, making them a local smash hit.

It’s easy to see how the first half of doughnut came about, but where did the “nut” come from? Three theories on that one. The first is that early ones were shaped a little like nuts. The second is that the Dutch sometimes filled the center (that often came out doughy) with things like almonds, walnuts, and other nuts, or even dried fruit. The nut would take up the space that normally didn’t cook, solving the problem. The third is that some early doughnuts were twisted and called dough knots. Perhaps, all three are true and came together in unity to be known as doughnuts.

Though a well-loved treat now, they weren’t fully embraced throughout the 19th century until the Salvation Army took them to war in the 1910s. Two hundred and fifty Salvation Army volunteers went to the French front during WWI to provide snacks and food for the soldiers. The ladies had wanted to bake cakes and pies, but ovens weren’t available in the trenches. However, pots (and sometimes helmets) along with lard were, so they deep-fried doughnuts. They used juice bottles and shell casings to roll the dough. Then they cut them out with an empty baking powder tin and made the center hole with a broken part from an old coffee pot.

These ladies would be referred to as doughnut lassies, doughnut dolls, or doughnut girls. When the regiment leader told the ladies they had to stop serving doughnuts to men under fire, one volunteer said, “Colonel, we can die with the men, but we cannot leave them.” When the men returned from war, so did their appetites for doughnuts, contributing to the spread of these tasty treats.

Jewish Russian refugee immigrant Adolph Levitt opened many different kinds of shops after coming to the US. All failed until he opened a doughnut shop in Gotham, NY. People lined up around the block to try his creation. He couldn’t keep up with demand and realized he needed to develop a machine to speed up the process.

On a train, Levitt met an engineer, and together in 1920, they developed a working machine that rolled, cut, and fried the doughnuts—after the first eleven attempts had failed. Now, Levitt could produce hundreds of doughnuts an hour to keep up with the demand.

The poem at the beginning of this post was updated in 1929 by a Charleston, West Virginia restaurant to:

As you ramble on through life, brother,

Whatever be your goal,

Keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole.”

Adolph Levitt had this version of the quote on the front door of all of his shops and on the doughnut boxes.

At the 1934 World’s Fair, doughnuts were touted as “the food hit of the Century Of Progress”, causing them to race across the country with almost instant success.

National Doughnut Day is only two weeks away on June 7th! It’s the first Friday of June each year. It was started in 1938 as a fundraiser by the Salvation Army for needy people during the Great Depression. It is to celebrate the brave lady volunteers of the Salvation Army who went to the frontlines during the First World War to provide food for the soldiers. Some people say that November 5th is National Doughnut day, but no one really knows why. Its main focus is simply on doughnuts. But why choose? Many celebrate both days by eating doughnuts. Works for me.

Here is a link to “The Parable of the Donuts”.

I’ve always loved maple bars (long johns), but as I’ve gotten older, I can only eat about a third of one at a time. Were they always that puckeringly sweet? But they are still mm-mm good.

What’s your favorite kind of doughnut?


Historical Romance Series

By Mary Davis

THE WIDOW’S PLIGHT (Book1) – Will a secret clouding a single mother’s past cost Lily her loved ones?

THE DAUGHTER’S PREDICAMENT (Book2) *SELAH & WRMA Finalist* – As Isabelle’s romance prospects turn in her favor, a family scandal derails her dreams.

THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (Book3) *SELAH Winner* – Nicole heads down the mountain to fetch herself a husband. Can she learn to be enough of a lady to snag the handsome rancher?

THE DÉBUTANTE’S SECRET (Book4) – Complications arise when a fancy French lady steps off the train and into Deputy Montana’s arms.


MARY DAVIS, bestselling, award-winning novelist, has over thirty titles in both historical and contemporary themes. Her latest release is THE LADY’S MISSION. Her other novels include THE DÉBUTANTE'S SECRET (Quilting Circle Book 4) THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (The Quilting Circle Book 3) is a SELAH Award Winner. Some of her other recent titles include; THE WIDOW'S PLIGHT, THE DAUGHTER'S PREDICAMENT, “Zola’s Cross-Country Adventure” in The MISSAdventure Brides Collection, Prodigal Daughters Amish series, "Holly and Ivy" in A Bouquet of Brides Collection, and "Bygones" in Thimbles and Threads. She is a member of ACFW and active in critique groups.

Mary lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of thirty-seven years and one cat. She has three adult children and three incredibly adorable grandchildren. Find her online at:
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this interesting post today, and now I want a doughnut! My favorite is maple bacon, and my husband loves traditional cake doughnuts but he's fussy about them. To him homemade is best, and only a few places sell one he will buy.