a brief history of the donut — 8/21/15

Today’s selection — from The American Plate by Libby H. O’Connell. Donuts began as a small sweet treat with no hole called oleykoeks invented by the Dutch. It wasn’t till 1847 that an American seaman added the hole:

“You may think we have a giant national sweet tooth today, but the early American settlers were no less fond of their sweet treats. The Dutch contributed to a national love of sugary baked goods. The English and the Spanish weren’t the only Europeans to colonize North America early on. The French sent explorers and missionaries, whose names dot the maps of modern Canada and the Unites States, particularly in the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River valley. The Dutch founded New Netherland right in the middle of the Atlantic coast and up the great Hudson River. Their harbor town, New Amsterdam, would eventually become the vibrant powerhouse called New York City.

Modern Donuts from Federal Donuts

“Although the English took possession of New Netherland in 1664 and renamed the colony New York, many Dutch settlers remained. Farm families in the early 1800s still spoke Dutch. Several common American words, like ‘boss’ and ‘stoop,’ are Dutch in origin. Their influence lingers in place names like Brooklyn and Kinderhook, and in family names like Roosevelt and Vanderbilt.

“The Dutch also contributed three all-American foods: doughnuts, waffles, and cookies. It would be inaccurate to say they invented these sweet treats. … In the colonial period, doughnuts were chubby circles, not the inflated rings we’re used to seeing today. A baker would drop a ball of stiff batter or dough about the size of a large walnut into hot pork lard and fry it brown. They called these deep-fat-fried calorie bombs oleykoeks, or oil cakes, serving them with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon. British Americans adopted the recipe, but called the treat a ‘dough-nut.’

“An American seaman cook, Hanson Gregory, claimed to have created the first doughnut cooked intentionally with a hole in 1847, more than two hundred years after the Dutch arrived here. He said the hole allowed the dough to cook more evenly in the hot lard. Today, Americans consume doughnuts with enormous relish, chowing down on over ten billion a year.”

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites

Author: Libby O’Connell
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Copyright 2014 by Libby H. O’Connell
Pages 59-60
 

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