Coffee’s Perfect Partner

You’ll find them in offices, boardrooms, classrooms, breakrooms, and newsrooms throughout the nation. They’ve become popular at baby showers, birthday parties, and other social events– even weddings. They’ve been featured in movies, television sitcoms, cartoons, video games, children’s books, and music albums. And, it’s purported that they’re a staple in just about every policedownload station, large and small, across America.

What we’re talking about is that typically ring-shaped, fried, sometimes frosted, sometimes glazed, sometimes filled confection known as the American donut. Or, “doughnut,” if you prefer the traditional spelling. Regardless of how you choose to spell it, the fact is there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t love donuts. In homerfact, they are so popular that Americans consume more than ten billion donuts each and every year, making them by far the country’s most popular sugary treat, especially with that morning cup of coffee.

It’s believed that Dutch settlers introduced America to donuts in the form of olykoeks, small balls of sweetened dough (very similar to today’s donut holes) fried in pork fat. It was these small round lumps, or “dough knots” as they were sometimes called, from which the donut likely derived its name. The earliest known reference to the term “doughnut” appeared in Washington Irving’s History of New York, where he wrote “The table . . . was sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough nuts, or oly koeks.”

One problem with these early Dutch inspired treats was that the outer edges got done while the centers remained somewhat raw. One solution to this issue was to stuff the centers with jam or fruit or some other filling that required little to no cooking. But in 1847, an American ship captain named Hansen Crockett Gregory solved this problem by putting a hole in the middle of the dough, thereby providing more surface area to come in contact with the oil and eliminating the uncooked center. Exactly how Gregory wentSour-Cream-Donut about devising his invention is the subject of several legendary tales.

According to one popular version, Gregory’s mother Elizabeth made him some donuts to take on a voyage. While enjoying one of his mother’s treats, Gregory didn’t like the raw centers. He suddenly had the idea of just removing the center by punching it out using the ship’s tin pepper box. When he returned from his trip, he showed the idea to his mother who immediately made a fresh batch using her son’s trick. The results were well-done, completely fried-through donuts.

It was only after World War I that donuts became popular in America. In August 1917, more than 250 Salvation Army female History-Donut-Day-562x374volunteers known as “doughnut lassies” prepared and served thousands of fresh donuts to homesick front-line soldiers serving in France. When our troops returned home from war they had a real taste for donuts, and small local bakeries tried to meet their growing demand but with only limited success.

Then in 1920, an enterprising young Russian refugee named Adolph Levitt invented the first donut machine to increase production of these tasty rings in his busy Harlem bakery. Soon, hungry crowds were able to watch the donut making spectacle in action as Levitt’s machine dropped baseball size rings (with the hole built-in) in a vat of hot oil, get turned over to brown on the other side, emerge from the oil on a moving belt, and tumble into a basket. As the news of Levitt’s automated donut gadget spread and its design became more refined, demand for his machines came from bakers all across the country. By 1931, Adolph Levitt’s donut machines were earning him a respectable $25 million a year.

In 1934, the Chicago World’s Fair was billing donuts as the “food hit of the century.” That same year Clark Gable taught Claudette Colbert how to dunk her donut in the hit film It Happened One Night. During those early years, costing less than a nickel, a donut was even within reach of most of the Depression’s victims and often came with a philosophical saying: “As you go through life make this your goal: Watch the doughnut, not the hole.”

It was also in the 1930s that a Paducah, Kentucky storeowner purchased the shop, yeast-raised donut recipe, and copyrighted name Krispy Kreme from a misplaced New Orleans chef by the name of Joe LeBeau. That businessman hired his nephew, Vernon Rudolph, to sell his donuts door-to-door. But Vernon soon wanted to expand and sell the donuts on a much larger scale, so he and some other family members subsequently opened shops in Nashville, Tennessee; Charleston, West Virginia; and Atlanta, Georgia.

Still not satisfied, Rudolph sold his interests in the family stores and in 1937 moved to Winston-Salem where he and two friends began making Krispy Kreme donuts and selling them out of their 1936 Pontiac to local stores and supermarkets. As demand for his donuts grew, Rudolph and his buddies cut a hole in their factory wall, installed a sales window and began selling retail. By theiStock_000015955670XSmall 1960s, Krispy Kreme had stores throughout the Southeast. Rudolph died in 1973, the company reorganized, and in 1976 was sold to Beatrice Foods.

In 1949, Bill Rosenberg opened his first donut restaurant named Kettle Donuts in Quincy, Massachusetts. He had conceived the idea after noticing coffee and donuts were the two most popular items his food business was selling to the factories and construction sites it served. The following year Rosenberg changed the name of his restaurant to Dunkin’ Donuts and by 1955 he had sold the first franchise. In 1959, the company started on a growing streak and in 1963 Rosenberg’s company opened its 100th store. Today Dunkin’ Donuts is one of the largest coffee and baked goods chains in the world, with over 15,000 restaurants in thirty-seven countries.

In addition to these well known donut giants, other prominent American donut chains include Shipley’s, Winchell’s, Daylight Donuts, and of course Canada’s Tim Horton’s. But of the more than 8,966 donut shops in America, the majority are still locally owned independent mom and pop stores. Of course, you also have the bakeries of today’s large supermarket chains contributing to the donut craze as well.

Since the Dutch first introduced colonists to olykoeks in the mid-1800s, we’ve seen donuts evolve from a homespun treat made by housewives, to local neighborhood bakers specializing in donuts, to large donut chains using mass production techniques and worldwide distribution. In recent years however, we’ve seen 8262544881_1d7895696d_cAmerica’s pastry chefs and entrepreneurs returning to their roots, resulting in a sort of donut revolution, experimenting with unusual ingredients and creative flavors to produce artisanal donuts–maple-bacon donuts, fruit loop covered donuts, chunky banana and cinnamon donuts, snowball donuts topped with marshmallow and coconut, and much, much more.

Regardless of whether your preference is for plain, frosted, or filled traditional donuts, or one the new gourmet varieties, or if you choose to buy your donuts from one of the major chains, the little shop down the street, or just make your own, there is one thing on which we can all agree: we American’s have a love affair with donuts that’s as big as the country in which we live.

Have you had your donut today?

Make Em: Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Donuts, Salvation Army Lassies’ Doughnuts

Sugar’s Fried Pies

Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the daily meals my momma prepared for our family.

apricot fried pie 1Momma (or “Sugar” as everyone called her) was an Oklahoma farm girl and a terrific homemaker and fantastic cook who always seemed to enjoy maintaining a fastidiously clean house and caring for my father, younger sister, and me. This included preparing our favorite treats, usually on a weekly basis. For me this meant her coconut layer cake with crushed pineapple between the layers and creamy white icing, her Thanksgiving sweet potato pies (which for years I thought were pumpkin), and probably my all-time favorite, homemade apricot fried pies.

friedpie2I was about eight or nine years old when I first became interested in how Sugar went about making these delectable hand-held treats, as this was about the time in my life that I had the growing desire to learn to cook. She would start about mid-morning making the filling–dried apricots, sugar, a touch of cinnamon, and water, simmered until the fruit was tender. She then added a lump of butter, mashed the mixture by hand with a potato masher into a sort of lumpy puree and set it aside to cool while she made the crusts.

cutting out the doughEarly on Sugar’s fried pie crust was made from a biscuit-style dough, which as I think back was a bit ironic since she very seldom made biscuits. She would roll out the dough into a large rectangle about an eighth of an inch thick, and then, using a tea saucer as her pattern, cut it into circles about six inches in diameter. Gathering up all of the scrap pieces of dough, she reformed it, rerolled it, and cut more disks, continuing the process until every bit of dough was used.

crimping the doughLater with the advent of canned biscuits, and being the progressive cook she tried to be, Sugar just couldn’t pass up the convenience of popping open one of those cans and rolling each glob of dough into its own circle. But with that exception, the ritual remained the same, filling half of each circle with the cooled apricot filling prepared earlier. She then folded over the other dough half, carefully sealing each pie by crimping them with the tines of a moistened fork, and frying them in a large cast iron skillet of Crisco.

OMG, a snack! Eating one of those treats made me feel as though I had died and gone to heaven.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these little pockets of deliciousness, let me provide a little fried pie history, albeit a rather sketchy one. Research provides very little as to the when, where, and by whom fried pies were first created. Some claim they descended from New Hampshire’s crab lanterns, a fried apple pastry whose name is derived, according to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, from “crab apple” and “lantern,” because of the “ventilating slashes that expose the fruit filling.” And some believe them to simply be a southern version of the turnover, born out of the leftover pie crust from making a traditional pie. In truth, both these and other speculations as to the pastries origin probably have some merit.

empanadaThe fact is, various cultures from around the world have made “hand pies” for centuries. Spain and Portugal have had their empanada, since at least the 1500s, the Indians their meat-filled samosa, the Italians, their cheese filled calzones, the English their savory pasties, and Poland, cheese calzone reducedtheir meat and vegetable pierogi, just to name a few of the more prominent of these portable meals and treats. History also shows that while these are most commonly of a savory nature, they can actually be filled with almost anything including fruits, berries, and jams.

So while we may not be able to pinpoint the exact origin of the fried pie, we can be certain they are an American South tradition with generations of passed down recipes. And although apple and peach are the most common, I can assure you that other popular flavors including cherry, lemon, chocolate, coconut, blueberry, and of course apricot are equally delicious.

friedpie4Fried pies are available at travel stops, convenience stores, BBQ joints, and some fast food restaurants across the southern states from Texas and Oklahoma to the Carolinas. But make sure that what you’re getting is a real fried pie and not one of the commercially branded baked pies, because they are definitely not the same. Better yet, try making your own from Sugar’s recipe which I’ve copied into the GrubAmericana recipe index. I know she’d be honored.

Make Em: Sugar’s Apricot Fried Pies

Try Em: Apple Valley Orchard, Cleveland, Tennessee, Mamaw’s Fried Pies, Whitehouse, Texas, Original Fried Pie Shops, Oklahoma, Texas & Arkansas