Friday, June 6, 2008

National Doughnut (Donut) Day

"Twixt the optimist and the pessimist
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut
But the pessimist sees the hole."

One of the most pleasant surprises you can discover within the signatures of a booked filled with recipes is the treasure above. This nugget was found in The Ladies Home Journal Cookbook. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out much about the author.

Today my dear visitors, today is...Doughnut Day! Now, you may think the reason why I'm excited about Donut Day is because I have an everlasting affinity for them. Nope, do you want to know a secret? I don't eat donuts. Okay, before you hit me over the head with a wet noodle, let me explain. It isn't that I have never eaten doughnuts. Quite the contrary. I once loved those infinite rings of comfort. It got to the point that even when I was off from work I still wanted to go to Dunkin Donuts for my night shift addiction. Wait, I'm getting a little ahead of myself so, I'm just going to wrap this up. I worked nights for almost 20 years. Many many times I worked seven days a week and many doubles and triples. Dunkin Donuts was the place I left my comfort zone and began my delirious zone. Each night I took my journey, donut and coffee in tow. When my shift was eventually up, Dunkin Donuts was where I stopped on my way back to comfort zone. One day, I had to stop myself from going to Dunkin Donuts on my day off! I no longer work those kinds of hours so simply, no more doughnuts for me.

So then why the big excitement over National Doughnut Day? One, because I know for sure today is National Donut Day. I'm always more comfortable posting when I can "prove" the day is indeed the day. And two, because I have the most coolest book to share with you today and I can hardly contain myself. The title of the book is (drum roll) The Donut Book. Written by Sally Levitt Steinberg, The Donut Book is filled with "the origins, history, literature, lore, taste, etiquette, traditions, techniques, varieties, mathematics, mythology, commerce, philosophy, cuisine, and the glory of the donut." It says so right on the book cover and as all us cookbooks collectors know, "you can sometimes judge a book by its cover." This book cover doesn't lie. The best part is, Sally Levitt Steinberg is the grand daughter of a man who invented the coolest looking doughnut machine. That excites me, I just can't help it. I love knowing about the history of these kinds of things and, more importantly, the people behind them. Although, there are a few enclosed recipes in this book, it really isn't a cookbook. Often, when I say I read cookbooks, I mean I read cookbooks which are overflowing with recipes. It's sort of like reading between the lines. I can't help it. I just do it. It doesn't make me more knowledgeable; I just do it. The Donut Book is so much more readable. And pleasantly so, I must add. Sally brings the doughnut to life. The munches of lore and glory are indescribable within the scope of this post. In a way, that's good for me. It makes it so much more comfortable for me to just share some of the highlights of this book knowing it was written by an "authority."

Now, there's quite a display of donuts on the internet. From the more than serious donut lovers to those wondering, "who invented the doughnut." Many sites remind us about the many different versions of doughnuts formed all over the world. More than a few sites mention Captain Hanson Crockett Gregory. Captain Gregory's alleged claim to fame? He invented the donut hole! I actually considered celebrating Captain Gregory's birthday instead of today as "Donut Day." But, it just so happens there are some minor discrepancies involved with the notion. One his age and two his motives. If what I read is true, the "invention" of the donut hole would be on my calendar for June 22. Well, no can do. June 22nd is this gals birthday and I have other plans for posting that day. Another reason I decided against it is because today, or the first Friday in June, is historically National Doughnut Day. National Donut Day was established in 1938 by the Salvation Army to raise funds during the Great Depression. The Story Of The Doughnut Girls would make a wonderful post in itself. I'm thinking about celebrating them in October. You see it was on Oct 19, 1917 that Salvation Army volunteer Helen Purviance made the first doughnuts for homesick U.S. soldiers. Each doughnut reminded the soldiers of home. The doughnuts were cooked in a kettle over an open fire. It has been said, "It was not the delicious home cooking, but the spirit in which it was served that captivated the men." The soldiers were affectionately called "Doughboys." (see resources) The Salvation Army has been celebrating National Donut Day ever since. The promotions to raise money for the Salvation Army are still shared by many donut establishments. Actually, the celebrations sometimes spill over to a two day event know as Doughnut Days which includes the first Friday and Saturday in June. One more note on other donut holidays. There are also some sites which list June 8th as International Jelly Filled Doughnut Day, September 14th as National Cream Filled Doughnut Day and Buy A Doughnut Day which may be on October 30th. I am intrigued by the Buy A Donut Day promotion as it falls quite close to the Helen Purviance date listed above.

The Donut Book

Ready? Grab yourself a peanut butter and donut sandwich cause, here we go! There are more than 225 pages in this donut filled book so choosing the perfect donut legacy is no easy task. Let's begin with the "Donut Princess."

"On the first day of first grade I wore a red and green plaid dress above my patent leather Mary Janes and white socks, and on my white collar I wore something that made me different. A pin. It was yellow and brown plastic, in the shape of a cup of steaming plastic coffee, with a plastic donut poised above, ready for dunking. This meant I was a genuine Donut Dunker, member of the National Donut Dunking Association, formed when an actress dropped a donut into her coffee by accident and other celebrities copied her, starting a fad."
"And then there was was the jingle on the Mayflower box. It was a quaint insignia of two men dressed as old fashioned jesters, facing away from each other with my grandfather's motto in curly, old style print between them:
As you ramble on thru Life, Brother,
Whatever be your Goal,
Keep your Eye upon the Doughnut
And not upon the Hole.
"...My grandfather found this motto, the Optimist's Creed, as it is called, inside a cheap picture frame he happened to buy in a dime store."
"Donuts have been my dusty corner of American life since my grandfather invented that Wonderful Almost Human Automatic Donut machine. Donuts were around the world and around me all the time, beautiful ones in pink jackets or with red and silver sprinkles...
My grandfather, Adolph Levitt, was not always the American Donut King, as they called him. He began as a village boy in Russia, son of a Jewish merchant, in a village where the Gentile Russian grain merchants were angry with the Jewish ones. It all started when Uncle Jake, my grandfather's older brother, came to the New World to get away from anti-Jewish riots in Russia. He bought a pushcart, loaded it with dry goods, and dragged it across the Midwest and out to Oregon, hawking his wares, a button here, a zipper there. In a year, Jake, the greenhorn with the wagon, had made enough money to bring his family across sea...in this land my grandfather, his parents, and, his six brothers and sisters came to roost...in Milwaukee. (1892)

The Donut King

On the streets of Milwaukee, where hard work rules, children found work as newsboys. At ten, after two years of American school, my grandfather had to quit to save pennies by selling papers to whorehouses, before he ever knew what a whorehouse was. To learn, he read encyclopedia from cover to cover...when he and his brother John were only 14 and 15, they went into the mercantile business. Their plan was to put everything in the window, suits and especially hats and shoes. My grandfather was known for his window displays, "a great idea." ...He had one one store after another hats and shoes and gloves and belts...One after another, the stores closed.

Alone, Alfred Levitt made his way to New York. Broke, and feeling like a failure, he took money his mother had hidden under mattresses for emergencies. Once in New York, the money allowed him to invest in a bakery chain. Then, in 1920, he met the soldiers returning from war. "The doughboys of WWI had the taste of donuts in their mouths, the donuts some Salvation Army girls had fried in garbage pails in wartime France."

Donuts became the rave of the trenches, filling bellies and warming hearts with the taste of home, the original wartime homesickness remedy. The girls could hardly keep the soldiers supplied. donuts' association with soldiers continued into the Second World War as well, making a bridge to home, inspiring patriotism...Johnny came marching home asking for donuts on the street. The cries of the doughboys on a donut rampage rang across the countryside until my grandfather heard. He saw to it that America got the donuts he jnew it needed. He took a kettle, fried donuts in it, and pushed it to the window of the bakery in Harlem. People loved to watch the donuts frying in the window, turned over by a man with a stick, and they loved eating them. Pretty soon the crowd in front of the window was too large to get through, and people wanted more donuts than the kettle in the bake shop could fry.

The Donut Machine

Sally Levitt Steinberg marches along telling the story of how the donut making machine came to pass. It seems there were a few minor details to solve with the location of the bakery and its proximity to a movie house next door. "The fumes from the bubbling fat bothered the moviegoers."

My grandfather, the problem solver, thought up the idea of a machine to make donuts, turning them automatically, getting rid of the fumes from the open kettle with a fan to pus them to the roof, and producing donuts in greater numbers for the crowds outside the window at the same time. He tried to put his "bright idea" into action, to inspire someone to invent a machine, with out success. One day, in the dining car of a train to Chicago, he sat next to an engineer. By way of making conversation, he told the engineer about the bakery and the lines outside the window and about the complaints from moviegoers, The engineer offered to sketch a machine and send it through the mail. He did, but the machine did not work. Together they invented eleven more unworkable machines for making donuts...finally the twelvth one worked. It had cost $15,000 to make. In 1920 my grandfather put the machine in the bakery window so everyone could see the miraculous way to plop dough rings into fat, take them on a ride in a bath of oil, crisp them brown, flip them over, and cool the donuts on trays. Even more than the kettle, people loved watching The Wonderful Almost Human Automatic Donut Machine, as it was called, where dough went in and donuts streamed out. Bakers from all over came to buy machines for their bakeries. My grandfather sold 128 machines the first year. He paid the engineer for his help, and the engineer went his own way. In 1921 my grandfather made $250,000, enough to put the money back under my grandmother's mattress and have some left over...One by one, Adolph and his donut men sold machines to people all over America. They sold them to small bakeries and to five and tens, to fairgrounds and to beaches and amusement parks. They linked up with Maxwell House coffee, opening coffee and donut shops in cities, and with large baking companies, selling their donuts under brand names like Ward and A&P. They had the Union Steel Company make the machine, and they patented it.

The author continues the journey of the donut machine, and its inventor, down to Times Square. Such a success was the new location of the Mayflower Donut Corporation that The New Yorker wrote about the event in July of 1933. The author continues:

Nearby was Lindy's, the famous delicatessen restaurant with its famous cheesecake, where donuts were dunked for the first time. And in the middle of this swirl...was a bakery with a machine spilling out donuts and blowing their aroma into the street with a special fan so everyone could smell their irresistible smell. It was a sensation. It knotted New York traffic all over the city. Forests of craning necks ans grabbing fists pressed into a human clot. The city sent its police force, sirens blaring, emergency, a Donut Emergency.
My grandfather, they said, was a marketing genius. From the idea of putting things in windows, he went on to other tricks. He used names from American history: Lincoln for the machine, Mayflower for his donut shop chain. Realizing the machines alone were not enough, since they were built like battleships, to last for twenty five years and chew up millions of pounds of mix, he got into making the mix and the flour. Then he started bakeries to make donuts, and restaurants where people could eat them, and advertising schemes to sell them.

After skimming through only 35 pages of this delightful, fascinating book, I realize it would be too difficult to devour all of its contents in just this post. Hopefully, this bit of a dunking will inspire visitors to leisurely explore this charming book and all of its contents. From the donuts of Hollywood stars to "Everything You Never Knew About Donuts," there are oodles of black and white photos you probably never knew existed. The author goes into great detail about America's first donut girls and even provides a recipe from Stella Young; one of the original Salvation Army Doughnut Girls." There are also a few vintage recipes from the past. She delves into the "hole" truth of Captain Gregory by visiting relatives and researching manuscripts. Oh, I could just go on and on about this enticing spattering of our heritage revealed within this book's pages. There are donuts from stories, donuts from poems, donuts from history, donuts from home. There are donuts in pictures, donuts in space. There are donuts in fairs and donuts in place. There are explanations, dissertations, quotes and donut reducing diets. The entire book is jammed. And yes, there is even a donut calendar! What a gentle, comforting reminder this book is of how truly we become what we endeavor to eat.

Adolph rented machines to the Red Cross during WWII so soldiers could have donuts. Three hundred machines on Clubmobiles and millions of pounds of donut mix went out to boost the morales of soldiers in wartime again. His company won the A award for the U.S. government, A for achievement, for supplying food to the armed forces in the war.

Stella Young's Salvation Army Doughnuts

Salvation Army Doughnuts
5 cups flour
2 cups granulated sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1-3/4 cups milk
1 tablespoon lard
Fat for deep frying
Powdered Sugar
Donut must be throughly kneaded, rolled smooth, and cut into rings a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Drop ring into fat that is hot enough to bubble when donut is dropped in. Turn donuts several times so they will brown evenly. Then lift them out, holding them over kettle a moment to drip. Dust with powdered sugar while hot. Makes about 3 dozen.
1. Doughnuts to Doughboys @ the Salvation Army 
2. National Doughnut Day at Serious Eats
3. Keep Your Eye Upon The Bagel (donut article by William Safire, New York Times, 1994)
4. Donut Speak: Sweet Talk About the Iconic Treat's Name @ Cakespy
5. Hole Lotta Love
6. Donut Trivia (cute, you can also hear the donut song there:)
7. About Sally Levitt Steinberg (scroll down)
1. Baked Donut Recipe
2. Cake Doughnuts with Cinnamon Sugar