Published on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 00:00
When you were busy stuffing your face with doughnuts, have you ever wondered why they have holes? Well, no one really knows for sure why people started putting holes in these delectable treats but there has been a rumour circulating around for more than a century of the man who invented doughnut holes.
An American sailor, Captain Hanson Gregory, insisted that he was the first person to come up with the idea of having holes in doughnuts in 1847 at the age of 16. There are many variations of this tale but the version that he himself put forth for the Washington Post (Mar. 26, 1916) explained how he created the first ever holed doughnut.
“Now in them days we used to cut doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted. I don’t think we called them doughnuts then – they was just ‘fried cakes’ and ‘twisters’. Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but when you had the edges done the insides was all raw dough. And the twisters used to sop up all the grease just where they bent, and they were tough on digestion. Well, I says to myself, ‘Why wouldn’t a space inside solve the difficulty?’ I thought at first I’d take one of the strips and roll it around, then I got an inspiration, a great inspiration. I took the cover off the ship’s tin pepper box, and – I cut into the middle of that doughnut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes! …Well, sir, them doughnuts was the finest I ever tasted. No more indigestion – no more greasy sinkers – but just well-done, fried-through doughtnuts.”
Gregory claimed that as a sailor and having the opportunity to travel around the world, he went on to teach this to a variety of people and the holed doughnut idea spread through different countries.
There is even a plaque in Rockport, Maine that states “In commemoration. This is the birthplace of Captain Hanson Gregory, who first invented the hole in the doughnut in 1847. Erected by his friends, Nov. 2 1947.”
This sounds like a crock of bullshit to me. Gregory’s assertion seems questionable, especially since he kept changing the details of this tale as he grew older. Anyone could have come up with a rational reason for punching holes in doughnuts and step up to take the credit for it.
My best guess is that doughnuts with holes were simply created by an unspoken bakers’ common consensus. Bagels used to be laced through wooden dowels and put on display and bakers probably got their inspiration from that for doughnuts. It would be a lot easier to stack doughnuts on wooden dowels before frying them instead of frying them individually. Furthermore, it is a great way of displaying them as it saves quite a bit of space.