Glazed Over: Celebrating America’s Edible Passion

National Donut Day, June 2, has come and gone, but that’s no reason not to get the whole story on a hole story. Donuts (or “doughnuts,” depending on your spelling preference) have a celebrated history throughout time and across the world, particularly in America. On Fridays at Monarch Landing, residents have the pleasure of noshing on DeEtta’s donuts, based in Naperville and voted Chicagoland’s best, as part of Monarch Landing’s commitment to offer yummy treats on various days of the week.

While donuts stem from European and Jewish cuisine, the deep-fried, doughy spheres came to the U.S. via Dutch settlers, who ate them at Christmastime and on special occasions throughout the year. Today, they are on virtually every street corner and in every bakery and store in this country, every day of the year. At some shops, like Krispy Kreme, the process of making donuts is a spectator sport, and who can forget those Dunkin’ Donuts TV ads featuring Fred the Baker intoning, “Time to make the donuts”?

But why the hole? Donut lore has a few explanations for the characteristic empty core, some practical, some not so. Let’s start with the impractical, shall we? It seems that on June 22, 1847, a Dutch sailor named Captain Hanson Gregory hit a sudden storm that required him to pierce his heretofore hole-less “fritter” on the spoke of his ship’s wheel to free up both hands. Legend has it that he enjoyed the donut much better without its raw center. (Never mind that in a nasty tempest at sea, finishing a donut might be the last thing on one’s mind.)

Now for the practical, which involves the aforementioned raw center of the donuts of yore. At some point in time, the eggs that are a standard ingredient of donuts were added to the dough to enhance its richness and firmness. Because the fritters cooked faster on the outside than inside, the center was still raw when the edges were fried to optimal doneness. Therefore, the centers were removed, leaving only the cooked outside. While that makes more sense than the Captain Gregory theory, it isn’t nearly as fun.

Why do police officers supposedly like donuts so much? The answer, it seems, lies in the wee hours kept by donut shops, similar to the hours law enforcers have on the job. Back in the 1950s, when donut shops were gaining steam in America, few eating establishments were open past early evening. Late-night donut stops were the perfect solution for hungry cops looking for some edible fuel (and perhaps also some better-than-squad-car lighting to do their copious paperwork).

Last, but not least, why do we celebrate National Donut Day? Initially, in 1938, the day was in honor of the “dough girls” who risked their lives to give fresh donuts to soldiers on the front lines of World War I. Nearly 80 years later, the holy confection is still a venerated American passion. And that’s reason enough.