National Donut Day, which falls every year on the first Friday in June, is, of course, a time to celebrate Homer Simpson’s favorite pastry. But unlike many other national food holidays concocted by the Internet, this one has a real place in history.
Fresh off the heels of Memorial Day, celebrating America’s troops, National Donut Day was created in 1938 to honor another group of wartime heroes: women working with the Salvation Army who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I.
But first, let's get to the free doughnuts. In honor of National Donut Day, Krispy Kreme is offering one free doughnut per customer at participating locations, no purchase necessary. Participating Dunkin’ Donuts locations will give you a free doughnut with the purchase of any beverage. Regional chains celebrating the day include Lamar’s Donuts in the Midwest, which is giving away free doughnuts, and Canadian purveyor Tim Horton’s, which is offering a doughnut with any purchase if you “like” their Facebook page and bring in the printable coupon. Other local doughnut shops around the country are having their own promotions.
In New York’s Madison Square Park, pastrymaker Entenmann’s will be serving the largest box of Entenmann’s doughnuts ever created as part of the festivities. The company will also donate $25,000 to the Salvation Army.
Then there’s the place that popularized the indulgent breakfast staple we know today: the Salvation Army. According to the organization’s website, doughnuts became popular among World War I troops in 1917, when an ensign nurse named Helen Purvience served the Salvation Army’s first doughnut to a man in uniform. The doughnut soon became a food staple for soldiers, and the Salvation Army’s doughnut recipe more or less standardized the doughnut we know today. The Salvation Army has even reprinted the original doughnut recipe from the World War I “lassies,” here. If you’re dieting, stay away: One batch includes two cups of sugar and an entire tub of lard.
The Salvation Army may be credited with popularizing doughnuts in the United States, but the treat’s origins are more hotly disputed. Some say they were brought to the US by Dutch settlers, who also brought us cookies and cobbler. Hansen Gregory, an American, also claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut as a teenager, while traveling on a ship in 1847. Fed up with the regular doughnut’s undercooked center, he punched a hole through it, he claimed, and later taught his accidental technique to his mother.
One last thing: as we are just fresh from crowning a new National Spelling Bee Champion in Snigdha Nandipati, it should be noted that “doughnut” and “donut” are both perfectly acceptable spellings.