The History Of The Donut
In honor of tomorrow being National Donut Day, I have written a short history of the donut. This is not the full history of the donut, obviously, but a few key moments in history that are worth noting:
1057 B.C. – A Greek naval commander named Dorotheos of Naxo set sail in search of a mythical island of great wealth. Half way through their journey, the crew of Dorotheos’s boat was lured into wreckage off the coast of a small island, by the incredible smell of baked goods. When Dorotheos and his remaining crew struggled ashore, they found the island inhabited by elderly women producing a previously unknown type of sweet roll. Dorotheos and his men immediately enslaved the women, as was the custom of the day. They repaired the ship and set sale for home with their newfound, culinary wealth. The island women fed the crew exclusively sweet rolls on their voyage, which eventually capsized the boat due to the excessive weight gain of the crew. The sweet rolls were dubbed “Donauts”, short for “Dorothothoes Nauts,” in memory of the lost crew (“Naut” being the Greek word for sailor).
1476: Following his death, the tyrannical ruler of Romania, Vlad The Impaler (or Vlad III Dracula) still lingered in the minds of its citizens. Rumors and legends of his cruelty, and even supernatural abilities, haunted people for years to come. His thirst for blood lead to tales of vampirism. So much so that the citizens of Transylvania began placing pastries filled with blood red jelly on their window sills at night. Their hope being that by sucking out the jelly, the fearsome Dracula would satisfy his thirst and pass over their house. In 1897, Bram Stoker galvanized the legend of Vlad with the title role in his vampire novel “Dracula”, though the jelly filled donuts were largely left out of the story.
Early 1800’s: Dutch settlers in New York City (or New Amsterdam) brought with them their delicious sweet pastries that were deep fried in animal fat. At the time, these treats were known as “oily cakes”, which sounds disgusting. The name changed over the years to “grease muffins” (which wasn’t better), then to “sugar bagels”, then to “doughnut”, and finally to the original Greek “donut”.
1865: Wounded Civil War veteran, Abe VanDough returned home to New York City with one leg and a dream to open a bakery. After commandeering a vacant storefront, VanDough began churning out oily cakes and grease muffins based on his own family’s secret recipes. Finding it difficult to draw in customers, and impeded by a missing leg, VanDough took out a small loan to purchase a horse. With a custom harness, VanDough mountained a wooden dowel to the horse’s forehead. With oily cakes speared on the dowel, VanDough would ride about the city selling his pastries to people on the street. VanDough is credited with giving the donut it’s hole and his horse became known as “The Unicorn of Time Square” and is the reason why unicorns are often associated with sprinkles and glitter. VanDough is also credited with having the world’s first “food truck”.
I hope you’ve learned something here about my favorite food. Please go out and support your local donut shop tomorrow. There are thousands of donuts in need of a good home. Be a hero.
***Additional Fact: The donuts known as “bear claws” were originally made with actual bear feet, coated in pastry dough, and deep fried (essentially a chicken-fried bear foot). This tradition was discontinued in the early 1940’s when rations were put on the bear feet supply due to their need for the war effort.