Captain Gregory and the Hole in the Doughnut



The invention of the doughnut, which evolved from the round, fried Dutch cakes brought to colonial America, is usually attributed to Hanson Crockett Gregory, a sea captain born in Rockport, Maine. In 1947, a plaque commemorating the captain's achievement was affixed to his birthplace. While it is generally agreed that the doughnut dates back to 1847, storytellers relate several different versions of Gregory's discovery.


One tale holds that Gregory was commanding a vessel called the Frypan when six men who fell overboard drowned because their bellies were full of fried cakes. Distressed by this tragedy and determined to avert it in the future, Gregory pondered the dilemma of the too-heavy fried cake. His solution was to jab a hole in the middle of the cake (thus, appropriately, making it resemble a life preserver) to lessen its danger to hungry sailors. One of the most frequently told stories about Gregory and the doughnut also takes place on a ship. During a sea voyage, Gregory and his crew struggled long and hard to guide their vessel through a ferocious storm. A thoughtful cook brought the valiant, exhausted captain a snack of fried cakes to eat as he stood at the ship's helm. When the ship suddenly encountered a huge wave, Gregory impaled his fried cake on a spoke of the wheel to free both of his hands for steering (in a slightly different version of this story, the power of the wave's impact knocked the cake onto the spoke without Gregory's help). The proud captain publicized his invention after his return to Maine, and the doughnut became a favorite treat for seamen.


Despite the colorful appeal of these stories, their veracity was questioned by Captain Gregory's descendent, Fred E. Crockett of Camden, Maine, during the Great Doughnut Debate. Held in October 1941 at the Hotel Astor in New York, the event was sponsored by the National Dunking Association, founded in 1938 and reportedly comprised of three million members (including Martha Graham and Bob Hope). The debate featured appearances not only by Crockett but by Chief High Eagle of the Wampanoag tribe, who claimed that his own people invented the doughnut when a wayward arrow missed a Pilgrim homemaker and pierced her fried cake instead. Crockett, however, dismissed both the chief's story and those popularly told about his ancestor. He noted that the captain would have been only fifteen years old in 1847, too young to have command of a ship. Crockett related instead how young Hanson Gregory had instructed his mother to poke out the middle of her fried cakes to avoid the sogginess that frequently lingered there. Mrs. Gregory shared her doughnuts with her neighbors and their fame gradually spread.


The first doughnut-hole machine, which featured a spring-loaded tube to push the dough out of the cake's middle, was patented in 1872 by John F. Blondel of Thomaston, Maine. During the First World War, United States soldiers stationed in France received doughnuts from the Salvation Army, and the national fondness for the hole-less fried cakes grew. In 1921, a Bulgarian immigrant named Arnold Levitt invented a machine that could mass-produce doughnuts. His Donut Corporation of America, founded just after World War II, helped bring the doughnut worldwide acclaim. By the end of the 1980s, America's two most famous doughnut makers, Dunkin' Donuts and Mister Donut, had 1,878 and 558 franchises, respectively.


By the late 1990s, Americans were eating an estimated 10 billion doughnuts every year.


There are two main types of doughnut today. Raised doughnuts are made with yeast and allowed to rise at least once before being fried. Cake doughnuts are made with baking powder and chilled before frying to keep the dough from absorbing too much oil when being cooked. Raised doughnuts can be filled with jelly or cream, while the dough for cake doughnuts is often flavored with spices, fruit, or chocolate.


APA Citation for This Book Note: Doughnut, BookRags. Retrieved 1 April 2006, from the World Wide Web.