It seems we have a day for everything. Literally. Everything. And most days make room for multiple interests. For instance, yesterday celebrated National Old Maids Day (believed to have surfaced sometime around World War II due to the temporary shortage of men…), National Cheese Day (a nice one for my colleagues over at Dairy Foods), and National Cognac Day (I think we should combine those last two—try a nice VSOP and an aged Cheddar sometime—or perhaps the latter two are meant to be enjoyed by the first?...).
But today is National Doughnut Day—one of our myriad national days that I can really get behind (the doughnuts pictured are from my regularly frequented local independent bakery, Busy Bee, which makes a nice range of classic doughnuts that are difficult to top…). We celebrate National Doughnut Day on the first Friday of June each year, and this one actually has a history, originating back in 1938 to honor the service of women (known as “dough girls”) from the Salvation Army who served doughnuts and hot coffee to the doughboys (and other troops…) back in World War I (its launch in 1938 also was designed to raise some funds and awareness for the needy during the Great Depression…). The National Doughnut Day tradition continued through World War II, with women of the Red Cross serving the fried delights to soldiers, designed to lift spirits for a brief moment during a time of great service—and sacrifice—for our country.
Doughnuts have a long and storied history in this country, first surfacing—to my knowledge—in Washington Irving’s “A History of New York” in 1809, where he described the “…enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough nuts, or oly koeks—a delicious kind of cake, at present, scarce known in this city, excepting in genuine Dutch families…”
Irving was pretty close with his nomenclature. The Dutch called the fried dough balls, olikoecken (“oil cakes”) or olibollen (“oil balls”). Someone eventually figured out that you should cut a hole in the middle to help them fry better, but doughnuts pretty much remained a niche ethnic treat until the 1920s. It was around then that Adolph Levitt helped bring to market a new-and-improved doughnut frying machine for his Mayflower Doughnut Shop in New York (he soon built a chain of the shops across the country—our country’s first doughnut chain—spreading the love of doughnuts and revolutionizing the industry). His company motto was, “As you ramble on thru Life, Brother, Whatever be your Goal, Keep your Eye upon the Doughnut And not upon the Hole,” a bit of a quip he called the Optimist’s Creed that grew quite popular.
And although I’m a doughnut omnivore, I’ll take a glazed any day of the week, with black coffee to go.