Well, it’s here – National Donut Day! I won’t be able to get a donut today (which are free at participating Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Crème) because my hubby has my car so I’m stuck. But I’m ashamed to admit, that I’ve already had my share of donuts this week because we bought a dozen last weekend. And at 300 – 400 calories each, I think I don’t need another one. That is until next week.
Today I pay homage to the mighty donut – the pastry that sustains us through many of our tired, stressful times. National Donut Day is celebrated on the first Friday of June. Eating donuts (with coffee) was born during a turbulent time in history. During World War 1 the Salvation Army wanted to honor soldiers. But because of the war, setting up bakeries near the front line in France was difficult so two Salvation Army volunteers came up with the idea of making donuts and serving them with coffee. Seeing how popular donuts still are today, I don’t doubt how much those donuts boosted the morale of the fighting men.
Colorful stories abound on how the donut got its shape. Although today’s donuts come in all shapes, the classic is the donut with the hole in the center or the ring donut. Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring donut while on board a ship when he was 16 years old. He found disliked the raw centers of round doughnuts and the greasiness of twisted donuts and so he punched a hole in the center of the dough with the ship’s tin pepper box. Smithsonian Magazine states that his mother, Elizabeth: “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,” and called the food ‘doughnuts.’ Why they are called doughnuts or donuts is a matter of debate. Some say that there were nuts placed inside balls of dough. Others claim it was because olykoes also come in the shape of “dough knots.” In the early 1900s, the shorter “donut” came into greater use although today, both spellings are acceptable.
The donut or doughnut – however you prefer to spell it has bit of a disputed history. No one has been able to pin down exactly where it came from. The word “doughnut” was first recorded in an 1809 publication by Washington Irving called A History of New York. In it he was praising an old Dutch custom: 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, present known scarce to this city, except in genuine Dutch families.
However, there seems to be a form of donut in many countries. For example, there is the round, sugar-dusted Chinese donut, quite popular here at buffets. The Japanese, in typical fashion, have created a trend with adorable animal donuts (pictured). In the Philippines, where I’m from we have a form of donut called bicho which is a yeast dough that’s fried in coconut oil and dusted with granulated sugar. These are usually cooked in front of the customer. As a kid, I remember watching through a glass window, hearing the sizzling of the dough frying in oil and anticipating the hot donut to be dropped into a pan of sugar. The smell is just incredible.
In Europe, there’s the Polish paczki (I apologize for the spelling – I don’t have a Polish keyboard) which lighter and filled with jam. The Germans have the very popular Berliner, which are traditionally filled with apricot jam and vanilla cream but can also be filled with other flavors of jam and marmalade, chocolate or flavored custard. Ukraine has the pampushky, which are smaller donuts, which can be have a sweet filling or garlic flavored (hmm, that’s different). The Middle East and Africa also have their versions of donuts. Savory or meat-filled donuts are also found in other countries. There is a comprehensive list of donut varieties listed in Wikipedia. Those of you who live in diverse neighborhoods can go on a treasure hunt and eat some for me. My favorites are butternut and raspberry-filled but I haven’t met a donut I didn’t like.