When I heard about National Doughnut Day my interest was immediately piqued.
Admittedly, we’re constantly bombarded with increasingly banal (and fictitious) food celebration days, so it’s very easy to become cynical about them. However, a day celebrating doughnuts sounds like a truly marvellous thing, but more import than that, it’s a genuine national day of celebration in America. National Doughnut Day has its roots firmly planted in history, and dates all the way back to World War I.
The history of National Doughnut Day
During World War I, the Salvation Army’s female volunteers, known as the ‘Dough Lassies’, brought home-cooked food to the American soldiers serving in France. Receiving delicious and comforting freshly made food in the trenches was a great morale boost for the men serving abroad. I saw it written somewhere that the doughnuts were often cooked inside a soldier’s metal helmet, which sounds both incredible, and rather dangerous!
The doughnut tradition came back into action during the Second World War, this time with the Red Cross volunteers serving them up to soldiers deployed abroad. The doughnuts were amazingly popular, and cheered the soldiers so much that the slogan “doughnuts will win the war!” was coined, and widely used at the time.
In 1938, as a way to celebrate the work of Dough Lassies during the war - and also as a means to raise funds - the Chicago branch of The Salvation Army launched National Doughnut Day.
The day itself
National Doughnut Day always falls on the first Friday in June.
The lucky people over in America will get FREE doughnuts from many doughnut stores on National Doughnut Day. I think this tradition should definitely be adopted here in the UK!
The doughnut’s name is said to have been created as quite a literal description of the original form of the pastry, which was a ball of dough, with nuts in the centre.
Doughnut or Donut?
The pastries were “doughnuts” originally, and so this spelling is historically accurate, but the use of the simpler donut spelling took off alongside the creation and huge popularity of Dunkin' Donuts in the 1950s. Both spellings are correct today, though “doughnut” is still often seen as the more proper spelling.
Doughnuts were brought to America by the Dutch, who called them olykoeks (fried cakes) and they were traditionally eaten as a treat during the Christmas season. Doughnuts had fruits and nuts put in to the middle of them to solve the issue of the centre being raw even after cooking.
American ship captain Hansen Gregory claimed that he got rid of this problem by inventing the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847. He told a great tale too, though whether it’s true or not is another matter. Captain Gregory’s ship is said to have suddenly found itself in treacherous waters when a wild storm hit. The Captain needed both hands to steady the ship’s wheel, and so, on a whim he impaled his doughnut upon one of the wheel’s spokes. Apparently, later on he realised that he preferred his doughnuts with the hole in the centre, and thus, the ring doughnut was created.
The first doughnut machine was made in New York City, in 1920. Adolph Levitt created it so that he could keep up with the ever-increasing demand for the doughnuts he was producing in his bakery.
From humble beginnings, doughnuts have exploded within the food industry and there are now huge varieties to choose from. Jam doughnuts, custard doughnuts, apple doughnuts, ring shaped, iced or glazed doughnuts, with sprinkles or without. The options are endless, and doughnuts can be bought pretty much anywhere; in supermarkets and bakeries, as well as specialist stores.
Let’s all enjoy the excuse to wolf down our favourite doughnut (or two) on National Doughnut Day this year. Mine’s a plain ring-shaped doughnut, please. What’s yours?
Jo Murricane is a freelance writer and blogger, based in Leeds. Read all about her food and lifestyle investigations on her blog, jo-blogs.co.uk.