A Hole In One
There is a very popular half-truth in doughnut lore centered on a very real sea captain and his mother. In 1847, Elizabeth Gregory was known in her New England circle to make a very fine olykoek. Her secret was to add a hint of nutmeg and fill the center with hazelnuts or walnuts. She even had a special name for her creation — dough-nuts. (A more plausible explanation of the name is far less exciting, early recipes instructed amateur chefs to create “little nuts of dough” and place these balls into the hot oil.)
As legend has it, Mrs. Gregory sent her son Captain Hanson Crockett Gregory on one of his sea voyages with several dough-nuts and her recipe to make more. It is here that one legend branches off into several versions. In one variation, Captain Hanson found himself having difficulty steering his ship and holding his dough-nut at the same time. The quick-thinking swabby impaled his dough-nut on one of the spokes of his steering wheel. Satisfied with his new dough-nut holder, he ordered his cook to henceforth prepare all dough-nuts with holes in the center.
Another variation of the legend might be easier to swallow. Simply stated, the Captain didn’t like the nuts and he poked them out. Acting on his Captain’s request, the ship’s cook created all subsequent doughnuts with the centers removed using the top of a round tin pepper box as a cutter.
Did Captain Gregory invent, as he stated to the Boston Post, “the first dough-nut hole ever seen by mortal eyes”? We may never know. However, we can be sure of the positive changes that happened to the doughnut during the cooresponding period in time. Olykoeks with holes in the center cooked far more evenly and the novelty of the new-found “doughnut-shape” would soon propel the doughnut to a popularity derserving of myths and legends.
During World War I, the doughnut had already achieved status as an American favorite. Young American men fighting oversees were served doughnuts by grateful Frenchmen as a reminder of the food back home.
By the 1920’s, doughnuts were being mass-produced. Their association with breakfast was only just beginning and the doughnut was more popular as a snack in theaters. To satisfy the growing demand for doughnuts in one New York neighborhood, a Russian expatriate named Adolph Levitt created the first doughnut machine. By 1934, the same year that the World’s Fair in Chicago declared the doughnut “the food hit of the Century Of Progress”, Levit was pulling down twenty-five-million dollars annually for the sale of his doughnut machines to bakeries.
The 1940’s and 50’s, saw the advent of doughnut chains such as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Dunkin’ Doughnuts. As coffee became more of a staple in bakeries across the country, the perception of the doughnut as a breakfast item became more prevalent. There seemed to be no stopping the oily cake.
But alas, at the height of civil rights turmoil and our nations tribulations as the so-called “policeman of the world”, so too did the doughnut face its share of troubles. The popularity of “fancy cakes” seemed to obscure what a doughnut actually was. The German bismarck had gained incredible momentum as a top-seller in bakeries. Glazes of every imaginable flavor, color and texture relegated the original olykoek to the rank of “plain doughnut” and even that was often confused with sugar-glazed raised cakes.
Just as the number doughnut shops grew exponentially in the 1940’s and 50’s, corner shops hawking something called a bagel grew in the 1970’s and 80’s. Being washed aside by the tide of bagel popularity, doughnuts, whatever they were, were being seen as the backwater hick cousin to its city-slicker alternative. But worst of all, the doughnut was being called unhealthy.
Pay no mind to the fact that a bagel with cream cheese has over 450 calories; the doughnut was called out time and time again for it’s average 300 calories per cake. So, what was a doughnut to do?