Which came first, the doughnut or the hole?
This existential question came to me while pootling about Boston, Massachusetts one November eve. Blackbird Doughnuts in hand, I sat down to ponder America’s political past. But alas, I was sitting on Paul Revere’s drag wig that he wore on his Midnight Ride! I moved over to find a better seat, but, oh! I was sitting on Ben Franklin’s original invention of 3D glasses. I moved again in hopes of finding an appropriate place to sit my biscuits but, nevermore, I had only chosen to sit on an ancient tea leaf excavated from the depths of the Boston Harbor. It seemed the city was steeped in history at every surface!
And yet… there was no museum of doughnuts to be found. Truly a tragedy that such an intrinsically American staple has been pushed aside en lieu of other museums dedicated to pointless things like Rosé, Outhouses and Children. Such has been the struggle for women and doughnuts alike throughout history…
After all, it’s quite clear that the patriarchy invented the shape of the donut.
There may not be a National Historic Museum of Doughnuts, but there is a National Doughnut Day observed the first Friday of every June. And curiously enough, a second National Doughnut Day pops up just five months later on November 5th. I will take any excuse to eat a doughnut, but why are there two? We don’t get two National Egg Days or National Cereal Days or National No Pants Days… Oh, blimey! If only there was a museum that could explain this!
Luckily, you have me, your personal donut sherpa, to explain it. The first Friday in June is predominately recognized for doughnuts because women volunteering with the Salvation Army during World War I discovered that helmets were perfect for frying doughnuts (I ❤️ scalp seasoned donuts). In 1938, the Salvation Army decided to honor these proclaimed “doughnut lassies” by recognizing an annual pastry holiday that could also raise awareness (and money) for their charitable efforts. Thus, the REAL National Doughnut Day was born.
The November impostor is speculated to have evolved from Veterans Day on November 11th, and mention of it can be traced back to magazines from the 1930s. Other than that, there’s no grand story to it.
Meanwhile, June’s date has a proven—and noble—lineage, overshadowing both National Jelly-Filled Donut Day on June 8th, and National Cream-Filled Donut Day on September 14th.
Sitting on a pile of rocks used to stone the Salem witches, one question remained turning in my noggin: who invented the almighty doughnut? Far greater minds than mine, that much I know.
The history of whence doughnuts came from is one people can’t seem to agree on, likely because aliens sent to take over the world placed doughnuts onto our plates as a sadistic way to watch us eat ourselves to death. But that’s just my theory.
There are several other theories, all contradicting of course.
- One theory suggests that Dutch settlers brought doughnuts to North America (along with other traditional American desserts) in the early 18th century, calling it olykoek.
- Anthropologist Paul R. Mullins states the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes.
- The first recording of the word “doughnut” is in Washington Irving’s reference in 1809 in his History of New York. He described balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat and called doughnuts. Today, these nuts of fried dough are called doughnut holes.
By these internet tidbits, it would appear doughnuts came before doughnut holes. And that we somehow stopped frying our doughnuts in pig fat, which I think we should return to immediately.
Sometime in prehistory, perhaps in the Garden of Eden, someone dropped dough into hot oil and the ancestor of the doughnut was born. Nearly every culture has an adaptation of fried flour and many have added something sweet to the dough, for better or for worse.
In the spirit of Whole30, I’m trying to limit myself to one doughnut per meal, but I have witnessed people pass up dessert all together. Not only is diet culture closing in on donut consumption, over the past quarter century doughnuts have survived onslaughts from competing breakfast carbs, including the bagel and the muffin.
However, donuts can actually thank bagels for their increased popularity. Once bagel production was unionized, the industrial production of doughnuts in the early 20th century spread across the U.S. like syrup on a hotcake, uninhibited by silly things like fair wages. Because of the automation of doughnut production, Krispy Kreme opened in 1937 and Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950.
Blackbird Doughnuts opened shop in 2015 at Boston’s South End, with several other locations opening up around Beantown since then. Unequalled in excellence from the start, Blackbird calls themselves “unique gourmet,” a nod to how mainstream being “artisanal” has become.
While the origins of the Blackbird name remains mysterious, the quality of the pastries do not. Blackbird bakes on site every day for optimal freshness, using as many natural and locally sourced ingredients as possible.
November 2016, I confirmed for myself that all that doughnuts stood for was encapsulated in those four golden syllables: Blackbird Doughnuts.
At the time, I was new to my doughnut journey, only having about three or four other doughnut shops under my rapidly expanding belt. Additionally, being in college, I was vehemently against overpriced dessert, no matter how many likes it promised on Instagram, hence why my photos are poorly staged, minimally lit and wholly unbalanced in composition.
Despite being located in comically ‘gruff’ New England weather, Blackbird’s South End location yields no indoor seating. You order and leave, perhaps eating your purchase swiftly on a bench outside before being on your merry way. Not one to wait for my donuts to cool on brisk autumnal day, I chose the latter, sitting down on one of the benches outside before sinking into the welcoming bosom of two fresh donuts.
My purchase entailed one cranberry yeast donut and one mint chocolate cake donut, about $4 a piece if my memory serves me correctly. While I have a personal preference for yeast donuts, I also have an affection for peppermint flavors, the wonderful tingling sensation brightening my mouth, cooling my palate against the creamy background of rich hot chocolate.
In other words, mint chocolate is one of the best flavor combos ever invented and if you don’t agree perhaps a roundhouse kick to the jaw would help you taste correctly.
Choosing just two flavors to walk away with was not an easy task, despite how I may make it seem. Other competing flavors on the rotating menu include: The Blackbird – Vanilla bean old fashioned; Signature Flavor Tropical Banana – Banana and coconut milk on a vanilla doughnut with chocolate and gold sprinkles; Lime Poppy; Strawberry Honey; Peach Ring; Sticky Bun; Boston Cream Bismarck, Everything Bagel Doughnut; Mango Mojito; BBQ Butterscotch; Boysenberry Bismarck, Jalapeño Popper Fritter; and endless more!
Looking back at this doughnut venture (going out of my way to seek a dessert, eating two donuts in one sitting, taking pictures with no intended use), I see the beginnings of what was to quickly turn into an obsession. The point where the psychoanalyst would look back and say, “Ah, yes, that’s when the warning signs started.” But I’m glad I walked the extra mile to get there and I’m very grateful I had the foresight to photograph my meal.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at BlackBird Doughnuts, despite being pooped on by a bird on my walk back to the Boston Commons. Pooped on by a Blackbird perhaps? How marvelously meta!
Okay I know this isn’t a donut I’m not an IDIOT trying to pull a fast one on you, but this Bagelsaurus breakfast sandwich is also in Boston up by Harvard and if you get a chance to try one please don’t pass it up. This was the EGGSPAÑOLA – free range over-medium egg, Maplebrook feta, pimento aioli, parsley gremolata. I didn’t even know what half of those ingredients were which meant it must be fancy so I ordered it. I also got the black olive bagel with rosemary cream cheese and it was DIVINE. With a name like Bagelsaurus, why wouldn’t you stop?
I am allowed to review bagels on this blog because donuts are bagels that believed in miracles.
Sincerely, your beloved doughnut lassie.
Flavor: 8/10 – My favorite part about the cranberry doughnut was the textured glaze full of freshly mixed in berries. Glazes do not often have this attribute, which confirmed the “uniquely gourmet” proclamation for me.
Bang For Buck: 7/10 – I can’t remember the exact prices, nor are they on the website (hmmm probably for a reason…) but I do remember being taken aback by how much one donut was. This is not the place where a college student can afford a dozen to bring to hang out with friends. Same with the beverages, why pay $4 for a cup of tea when you can make one at home for > $1?
Aesthetics: 6.5/10 – The interior is hip and trendy, with industrial design showing through the painted exposed brick, black metal framework and bare hanging lights, however it is unbelievably small. Not all donut shops offer indoor seating, but those donut shops are in Southern California. A Boston establishment should absolutely offer indoor seating, or at the very least an outdoor table.