When donuts arrived in the United States, they have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and thanks to ragtag bunch of characters, donuts are now one of them most iconic pastries in America. Thanks to a melting pot of influential characters, sweet tooth, and historical happenstance, they have become the poster child of everyday indulgence. Doughnuts were introduced to the United States by Dutch settlers when they ended up in Manhattan, which was then known as New Amsterdam.
Dutch settlers called these doughnut predecessors oily cakes, which were fried in pork fat. Their name evolved to oily balls, thanks to their irregular round shape. This was done by dropping dough off the end of a spoon. Unlike today, these oily balls were traditionally served during the Christmas season, and each cook had his or her own recipe. So, how were they named doughnuts? Some people speculate that the term doughnut could refer to the nuts which the desserts were usually stuffed with.
Although we know who introduced the doughnut to the United States, the story behind their hole is a little bit less clear-out. Most people agree that the doughnut hole was brought about by pure necessity, because the doughnuts’ center didn’t cook at the same rate as its edges in some recipes. However, there is another interesting story about doughnut’s hole. In the middle of 19th century, there lived Elizabeth Gregory, a woman who made a darn fine doughnut.
Gregory spiced hers with cinnamon, nutmeg, and preserved lemon rind, and would pack them up for her son, a captain of sea ship. Her son claimed that he invented doughnut hole, since he had to keep both hands on the ship’s wheel, he had no choice but to stick the doughnut onto the spokes of the wheel in order to keep them within reach. From its humble beginnings, doughnuts slowly started to climb up towards national domination. In 1920, a Jewish refugee from Czarist Russia, Adolph Levitt, invented the first doughnut machine.
Levitt’s machine churned out about 80 doughnuts per hour and they were identical doughnuts readily available to the people. The innovation also cloaked their production in an aura of spectacle. People could watch the dough rings turned golden, dusted with sugar, and distributed, before being pulled out. However, it took World War I for the doughnut craze to truly catch on. During the war, Doughnut Girls, women volunteers, served up the sweet confections to American soldiers in the trenches.
The love of doughnuts stuck when the soldiers returned home to the United Sates. Doughnuts were the everyman food during the Depression. The reason for this is that they were cheap enough to be purchased for most people. The immigrants, who arrived at Ellis Island, were greeted with a blanket and a doughnut by Salvation Army. This was quite literally their first taste of the United States. However, today doughnut shops have taken over street corners.
From Krispy Kreme to Dunkin’ Donuts, doughnuts, from glazed to cake, have intimately intertwined with the culture of the United States. Although you can still easily find cheap, readily available doughnuts, they have begun to become the category of gourmet. Artisanal pastry shops are looking to the doughnuts as their next canvas for culinary innovation. But, even though doughnuts may be the retro darling of hip bakeries, they will always be there for every person, as long as we have yeast, oil and sprinkles.