I'd like a dozen grindstones, please

The Gaelic college in Nova Scotia does not award its coveted diploma in the study of the Highland Bagpipe until the student has completed 17 years of close study. But at the lumber-camp cooking school in Fredericton they study the buying of meats for only five years. This is an odious comparison to introduce the subject of doughnuts.

We do not get doughnuts at our delightful residence for elderly folks, where cooking, I find, depends not on the ability to cook or blow the doodlesack, but rather on the whims of the purchasing agent, who doesn't know how to step into Mr. Dunkin's flavorful place and say, "One dozen, please!"

When I was told I might have here whatever I wished for breakfast, I added a doughnut - and was told I'd get no doughnut here. So I dialed and asked to speak to Mr. Dunkin'. A Mr. Marion Marak said Mr. Dunkin' was in the back room mixing batter for the afternoon fry and was unavailable, but he was the manager and could he help me? He continued to say that no, they had not gone out of business, and had numerous kinds of fresh doughnuts for anybody who came in. Yes, they did have the ordinary or regular doughnut, but many other kinds as well.

He was pleasant, but I found it hard to understand a man speaking on the phone through the hole in a hot doughnut. But I did find that the buyer, and not our cook, explains my lack of a breakfast doughnut. I have not found any other reason for not having doughnuts.

The story that the doughnut was invented by a Camden, Maine, sea captain who wanted something he could keep on the spokes of his ship's wheel is spurious. No captain ever cooked, and none ever mentioned a sea cook in fit language - sea cooks were the lowest of the low. And no Maine master mariner ever steered his own ship, the job of the helmsman.

The doughnut first appeared in Vermont, where it was cut square with a knife and then slit so hot fat would cook the middle. After that somebody invented a round doughnut cutter.

Years ago we had a police chief in Topsham, Maine, named Frank Carver, and he made doughnuts on the side. He'd be up early to fry his daily batch and then make a delivery route to stores and restaurants. On court days if he had to appear, the smell of fresh doughnuts came with him and caused everybody in the courtroom to hanker for a doughnut and coffee. So Judge Joseph Rousseau got a coffee urn and they went partners and did a good business for years.

The best doughnut story comes from Kokadjo, Maine, by the Rotch Ponds, a wilderness township on the fringe of Maine's North Woods. For years Ned Barker was postmaster and kept the only store. He was sharp enough, but he couldn't read or write. He kept his store books by drawing pictures. One of the stories is about mail-order competition.

A woman came in and asked for a postal money order made out to Sears Roebuck. Ned says, "What do you plan to buy from Sears?" She says, "A new canner. The garden's coming in, and my old canner sprung a leak."

Ned said, "Why don't you buy one from me? I probably have the same canner there on the shelf."

"You charge too much."

"How do you know? You never asked me what I'd charge. Suppose I was to offer to use you the way Sears does?"

So he showed her his canner, and it was the same, and he took her money and didn't fix her money order. Then he put his canner back on the shelf. The woman says, "I'll take it home with me. I can start on the green peas this afternoon."

"No," says Ned. "I said I'd use you same as Sears, and I'll leave the canner on the shelf two weeks, the time it takes to come from Chicago."

One summer day when Ned was old, a man came into the store and looked about with a smile. He said, "I was here with my father when I was a boy, and that's a good 40 years ago, and I swear not one thing has been changed in that time."

"No," says Ned, "we never seed no point in moving nothin', and I seem to remember your father made a purchase and didn't pay for it. I can look it up. Ohio, warn't it?"

"Good for you! Yes, Dayton. What did he buy?"

"I can look it up. I'll get down the account book." So Ned uses his shelf ladder and brings down "accounts receivable," and when he opens it flat on the counter he says, "Yep, here it is! Twelve grindstones!"

"Twelve what?"

"Twelve grindstones."

"That's crazy! What would anybody do with 12 grindstones?"

Ned says, "I been wondering about that off and on for some 40 years."

Squeaker Moody, the game warden, was in the store that day. He was looking over the account book, which was all in pictures (since Ned couldn't write), and he says, "There it is! Twelve grindstones clear as can be!"

So the man from Ohio says, "This is a frame-up! How would anybody walk away carrying 12 grindstones?"

"I don't recall anything about that," said Ned, "but I guess he did. Anyway, that's what he bought."

Warden Moody took another look at the book and started to laugh. He said, "Ned, you old fool! That ain't 12 grindstones! You can't read your own pictures! That's a dozen doughnuts!"

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