Doughnuts!

Doughnuts play a central role in my life.

I’m not so proud that I can’t admit that there have been nights when I’ve gone to bed excited about the doughnut waiting for me in the morning.

Every Saturday morning for as far back as my increasingly dim memory can recall, I’ve bought doughnuts for our family. In recent years, we’ve expanded the concept of “doughnut” to include pastries, especially the cream horns, turnovers and cinnamon rolls from Baker’s Bench in Westbrook. If you haven’t yet had the chance to taste the cream horns, turnovers and cinnamon rolls from Baker’s Bench, do so immediately. They are the best in the world. Trust me. There was a test.

World’s Best Cream Horn

The term “doughnut” comes from Elizabeth Gregory in mid-19th century New England, the mother of a ship captain. She deep-fried globs of dough for her son, using the spices that he transported. She often incorporated lemon rind into the fried dough to ward off scurvy on long voyages. That’s the exact same reason I buy doughnuts and pastries every Saturday morning. Got to ward off scurvy during soccer practice. But she found that sometimes the center of the fried dough hadn’t cooked enough, which is disgusting, so she took to placing hazelnuts or walnuts in the center to avoid the goo. Hence: doughnuts, which was infinitely better than what “doughnuts” had been called when they first came to America: oily cakes. By the way, Mrs. Gregory’s son claimed to be the first to put the hole in the doughnut. Some say he did it to hang it on a spoke in the captain’s wheel. Cynics say he did it to skimp on ingredients. Either way, it works.

Some people say that doughnuts are bad for you. To them, I say shut up. A doughnut was a treat that remained accessible even during the Great Depression. Many were even sold with inspirational quotes, like “As you go through life make this your goal: Watch the doughnut, not the hole.” Come on, if that doesn’t make you tear up, then you’re just a nasty doughnut-hater.

Doughnuts greeted our soldiers in WWI and again in WWII. Although, sadly, doughnuts did not spark the nickname Doughboys. That nickname predated the rise (get it?!?) of the doughnut, having been bestowed upon foot soldiers by cavalry during the Civil War because of the glob-like buttons on their uniforms.

Doughnuts rule. But this is America and and that’s not enough for us. We need to know which doughnut is number one. Rest assured, we have scientifically determined which place makes the best doughnut in Maine, or at least the portion we can easily drive to.

At my law firm one day, a group of us were engaged in an increasingly tense debate over whether the rise (I did it again!) of the potato doughnut signaled the end of days. This led to an even more violent argument about which shop made the best doughnut. Tempers flared. Punches were thrown. Someone might have gotten sued. Then calmer heads prevailed and a competition was suggested. Our first annual doughnut-off.

Guessing that some of us (me) would not play fair in this competition, the more anal retentive members of my firm devised a matrix of a score sheet involving trigonometry and knowledge of the ancient language of Sanskrit and we set about to prove scientifically which doughnut was the best. Each of us could submit one speciality doughnut and one “regular” doughnut from each shop and then all would taste and vote. To avoid being sued (and to avoid the baleful glare of nutritionists everywhere), I won’t name all the shops we sampled, but there were many. It took weeks but finally we had a winner.

The Cookie Jar in Cape Elizabeth.

My favorite thing about The Cookie Jar is its doughnut hole. These aren’t munchkins. These are balls of cake coated in glaze that are bigger than a poodle’s head. Eat one and you’ll have such a sugar buzz that you lose the ability to modulate the volume of your voice. Eat two and you’ll shake uncontrollably. Eat three and you’ll black out, waking up weeks later in Cancun with no pants. It’s awesome.

Now, I know what you’re saying. Since The Cookie Jar was my favorite going into the competition, I must have cheated. There had to be voter fraud. Two responses: first, that’s hurtful; second, of course I cheated.

So prove me wrong. If you have a doughnut that is better, let me hear it. Actually, let me taste it. Just not potato doughnuts. Those really are the coming of armageddon.

Doughnut Expert and Comedian, Jim Gaffigan

To hear comedian Jim Gaffigan explain why everyone loves doughnut, click here.

About Brendan Rielly

Brendan is the author of An Unbeaten Man, the first installment in the thriller series featuring Bowdoin College microbiologist Michael McKeon. An Unbeaten Man won Best Crime Fiction at the 2016 Maine Literary Awards. “…a first-class thriller”—Douglas Preston. “If you like spy thrillers, this is your cup of ricin.”—Gayle Lynds. “…sit back, strap yourself in, and enjoy the thrill ride.”—Steve Berry. Brendan is chair of the litigation department at Jensen Baird in Portland and lives in Westbrook, Maine with his wife, Erica, and three children. Brendan is the President of the Westbrook City Council.
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8 Responses to Doughnuts!

  1. John R. Clark says:

    My blood sugar tripled while reading this.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Doughnuts! When my children were at the slumber-party stage (with four girls, that stage was more like a freight train,) I used to make doughnuts in the kitchen while they were not-sleeping in the living room. I could kind of keep an eye on the general chaos … and they all liked doughnuts. And “holes.” Even today I sometimes hear from one those (now adult) girls who remember my making doughnuts in the kitchen. None of the other mothers did … and, for those very short times (in retrospect) I was the cool mom. Doughnut lovers, arise!

  3. I’m with you! And glad to hear law firms have arguments very similar to those in newsrooms.

  4. Beth Clark says:

    My great Aunt Sylvia had a cut glass crystal jar for her homemade donuts. On time when we visited she lamented that she had nothing for dessert. We all replied, “Yes you do!” I can still remember that delicious taste. Loved your post.

  5. Barb Ross says:

    When my husband’s grandmother died, his uncle wondered aloud whether we had a fiduciary duty to inform the shareholders of Dunkin’ Donuts, since surely they would now experience a significant drop in consumption.

    Like Lea, ours was the sleepover house and my husband got up almost every Saturday morning and bought dozens of donuts. I still run into those kids at their weddings and baby showers and they still remember the donuts.

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