``We miss her so - she made lovely doughnuts'' was a common saying during my doughnut-studded youth, but it had reference to nobody in particular. It was something we said, like, ``Hold her, Newt! She's a-headed for the barn!'' Or, ``Theopholus the thrifty thistle sifter who in sifting a sieve full of unsifted thistles thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.''
But the saying did keep doughnuts on the public mind, and my dissertation today offers the straightforward proposition that keeping doughnuts on the public mind is a nice thing to do.
There is that man on the TV who is aroused at all sorts of odd and improbable hours to get up and engage the treadmill of Dunkin' Donuts, his interminable punishment for franchised success.
His is a laudable effort, but my thesis includes that he makes better commercials than he does doughnuts; I demur as an old-time doughnut buff but agree it's hard to knock a guy who sells as many doughnuts as he does.
On the other hand...
The old poppycock tale of the sea captain who wanted a biscuit he could stick on the spoke of his wheel, thus to have something handy to munch on, dogwatch and seven seas over and around the Horn, has been offered lo these many as the reason for inventing the doughnut. Two things dispute this whimsy.
First, no sea captain ever steered his own ship, leaving that demeaning chore to his wheelman.
Second, the original doughnut didn't have a hole, but was cut square from the dough with a knife so it looked like this in the raw condition:
The slit halfway up the middle was to let the hot fat reach the interior, and this was the same reason for the hole that came later. The square-cut primeval doughnut was known as ``Dutchman's breeches,'' because after it was fried it looked like this:
Accordingly, the shape of either the square-cut doughnut or the doughnut with a hole was thoughtfully arranged by a knowing housewife who figured astutely that if you didn't do something like that, your doughnuts would be raw in the middle.
Nobody knows who thought up that business of sticking doughnuts on a steering wheel.
The most important thing about making good doughnuts is the little stick, like a bandleader's baton.
It is for turning the frying doughnuts in the fat, and retrieving them when they are done.
Spoons, forks, and patent devices are no good. Just a stick, round like a lead pencil and about twice as long.
The first doughnuts were unsweetened, because sugar was scarce in those times, and were meant to be taken at breakfast with warm maple syrup or molasses. Later, when sugar was added to the recipes, the original kind were known as ``plain'' doughnuts.
But today doughnuts come in so many hues and flavors that ``plain'' means the ones that don't have something else.
The first attempt to make a blueberry doughnut was a bust. When the dough hit the hot fat the raw blueberries exploded like bombs, and the bakery was a mess. It took the research staff quite some time to lick the blueberry, but today you can get blueberry doughnuts if you want the things.
Here's a good recipe for what is now a plain doughnut: Plain Doughnut 3/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons butter 3 eggs 1 cup buttermilk 4 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon mace 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon soda 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream sugar and butter well; add well-beaten eggs and buttermilk.
Sift flour with dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture; mix until smooth.
Roll to 1/2-inch thickness; let stand about 20 minutes. Cut with 21/2-inch doughnut cutter.
Fry in deep fat at 375 degrees F., until brown; drain well on absorbent paper. Makes maybe 3 dozen.
Granted that the buttermilk in that recipe is a holdover from the days of the family cow, and not necessarily the cultured facsimile, a doughnut recipe that used sweet milk should also be in everybody's cooking portfolio.
A friend of long standing has made such doughnuts since girlhood, but never used a recipe, and she gave me her sweet-milk adaptation with the disclaimer, ``That's about it, as I recall.''
We call her ``Red'' because she is redheaded, and here are Red's doughnuts: Red's Doughnuts 3 cups flour 1 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon soda 2 teaspoons cream of tartar Appropriate dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger 1 tablespoon shortening 3/4 cup sweet milk (powdered or canned will do; use
as directed on box or can) 2 eggs
Mix everything together well, pat (do not roll) flat, cut, and fry.
You'll notice that Red's recipe is a good one for migrant living - you can fry doughnuts on a camping trip, or at the country retreat, and even in a motel unit if they don't catch you.
Red made a batch of her doughnuts for us one time when we were three days down the Allagash River from Eagle Lake, a culinary success predicated on having a deep-fat pot in my canoe just in case.
There is no real need of ever being out of doughnuts.
Today marks John Gould's 45th anniversary of writing for The Christian Science Monitor. For an interview with Mr. Gould, please see the Home Forum (Page 30).