I love doughnuts. The look of them, the sweetness of their smell, their warm deliciousness. Glazed, chocolate icing, cream filled, lemon, raspberry. I love them all, but not equally. The chocolate icing closely followed by glazed are my favorites. Simple is most often best, and there’s nothing better than a fresh hot glazed one coming off the line at Krispy Kreme.
The history of the doughnut is debated. Some say Dutch settlers invented it, while others say a teenage boy aboard a lime shipping ship did. Personally, I don’t care. They’re delicious and that’s all I care about. Take one bit into one of those pillowy soft circles and you’re immediately taken back to simpler days of childhood and home.
I’m sure that’s how the boys felt when handed the sweet treat over in the trenches of France.
1917. The war that was to be over by Christmas still raged on. Seeing their boys tired, cold, hungry, homesick, and in desperate need of a spirit lift, the Salvation Army lassies set to work. Dressed in tin hats and thick boots, the sturdy hearted women set up their huts and started frying up the handy bits of dough. As the two masterminds of the snack, Adjutant Helen Purviance and Ensign Margaret Sheldon patted the dough into shape by hand, but soon found a wine bottle did a better job as a rolling pin. Purviance spent all day on her knees coaxing the wood fire in the potbellied stove to keep it at an even heat for frying. But she never complained.
“I was literally on my knees when those first doughnuts were friend, seven at a time, in a small frypan. There was also a prayer in my heart that somehow this home touch would do more for those who ate the doughnuts than satisfy a physical hunger.”
It didn’t take long for the mouth-watering aroma to draw the troops from their muddy trenches to wait patiently in the rain for their turn. A fresh, hot doughnut and a glimpse at a pretty lassie, what more could they want?! The first of these lucky boys was a young Private Zuber of Alabama who lied about his age to enlist. The error was quickly discovered by the hospital treating him for an illness and the military immediately ordered him sent home. Until Purviance intervened and recruited him to the doughnut brigade.
Only serving 150 the first day by using a helmet for the frying, they quickly upped their production to 9,000 a day when their full equipment was set up in the makeshift huts. After several soldiers requesting a version with a hole in it, Purviance had a local blacksmith fashion a cutter by fastening the top of a condensed milk can and camphor-ice tube to a wooden block. Never short of imagination, the ladies also used a baking powder lid and a lamp chimney to cut the doughnut, and the top of a coffee percolate to make the hole.
Doughnuts quickly became synonymous with the Salvation Army and the WWI vets returning home with the nickname ‘doughboys’.
The Salvation Army celebrated the first National Doughnut Day in 1938 in Chicago as a way to honor Salvation Army “doughnut lassies” from WWI. They started the day as a way to raise funds and bring awareness to the Army’s social service programs during the Great Depression. They say it’s because of these brave and innovative woman that doughnuts became such a popular treat in the US.
Wanna try these famous doughnuts for yourself? It took a few string pulls, but I managed to get their secret recipe only given out to fellow lovers of the sweet treat. Enjoy!
Salvation Army Doughnut Recipe
5 C flour
2 C sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 saltspoon salt
1 ¾ C milk
1 T lard
-Combine all ingredients (except lard) to make dough
– Thoroughly knead dough, roll smooth, and cut into rings that are less than ¼ in thick
– Drop the rings into the lard, making sure the fat is hot enough to brown the doughnuts gradually. Turn doughnuts slowly several times
– When browned, remove doughnuts and allow excess fat to drip off
– Dust with powder. Cool and enjoy