Eat all about it: 5 facts for National Donut Day

Camp Fire Girls selling donuts
A photo from 1934 showing Camp Fire Girls selling — and eating — doughnuts is held at The Bancroft Library. (Detail. Fang family San Francisco Examiner photograph archive negative files [graphic], BANC PIC 2006.029:092233_05_02--NNEG. © The Regents of the University of California, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.)

Whether it’s a Bavarian cream-filled, maple-glazed, or a classic cruller, there’s a doughnut for every occasion.

And what better time to scarf down one — or five — of the fried delights than on National Doughnut Day?

But before heading to Kingpin or Dream Fluff — or grabbing your free doughnut at Krispy Kreme or Dunkin — it’s time to learn more about the classic confection. We went down a rabbit hole — er, doughnut hole? — to find these five facts, relying heavily on the Library’s resources.

1. Every hero has a story

Doughnuts as we know them likely have origins that come from the Dutch immigrants who settled in New York in the early 1700s, bringing olykoeks — fried mounds of dough, often including nuts — which became the basis for the golden cakes we know and love today.

2. The doughnut’s rise

In the 1920s, automation kicked things up a notch. Machines began to make doughnuts in large quantities — and quickly — making them even cheaper for consumers.

Ah, the power of technology.

These mass-produced doughnuts gained popularity, and shops quickly sprinkled across the suburban landscape, leading to the rise of the doughnut as an American staple.

3. Just what the doctor ordered

We’ve heard “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but this is a new one.

In the 1940s, J. Howard Crum, a surgeon, proposed a curious way to lose weight: by eating doughnuts.

The Donut Diet, which appears to have been peddled by the Doughnut Corporation of America, is advertised in an issue of Woman’s Home Companion from 1941 as a “common-sense way to take off pounds.”

“The diet is easy to stay on,” says the ad.

Well, that’s something we can agree upon.

4. The (w)hole truth

How does did the doughnut get its hole?

That is one of history’s enduring mysteries — well, kind of.

Maine native Hanson Gregory, a cook’s-assistant-turned-ship-captain, is often credited with the invention of the now-ubiquitous doughnut hole.

The stroke of genius happened around 1847, when Hanson was only 16. Young Hanson used a pepper can to cut out the middle of the cakes, according to The Boston Globe.

The reason? To ensure even cooking — and to avoid biting into raw dough.

Gregory went on to win a medal from the queen of Spain for his bravery. He received no such award, however, for his lasting contributions to doughnut-making.

5. Out of the fryer and into the cookbooks

The first known appearance in a cookbook of the cake doughnut, similar to the ones we know and love today, is believed to trace back to Lydia Maria Child’s Frugal Housewife, first published in 1829.

With the help of a UC Berkeley reference librarian, we tracked down the recipe in an electronic version of the book.

Among the ingredients in that early recipe are flour, eggs, butter, pearlash — a chemical leavener used before baking soda became popular — and, of course, fat, for frying.

If eggs aren’t available, the recipe suggests instead using “lively emptings,” which, turns out, is the name for the yeasty sediment that settles at the bottom of beer barrels.

Cheers to that?

Sources: The American Frugal Housewife, by Lydia Maria Child (electronic version available through the Library); The Boston Globe; The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin, by Michael Krondl; Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, by Paul R. Mullins (available at the Library); Woman’s Home Companion.