November 5 is National Donut Day Celebrating the Actual Donut

The icing and the dough cause celebration on the palate!

Who doesn’t love a good donut? The kind that melts in your mouth as soon as your palate reaches the icing! The icing and the dough cause celebration to savor.

National Donut Day (also known as National Doughnut Day) on November 5 is one of two observed by donut lovers across the nation. The first Friday in June is the other day donuts steal the bakery case spotlight ready to tease their way into the white bakery box and go home!

History disputes the origin of the donut. One theory suggests Dutch settlers brought donuts to North America much like they brought other traditional American desserts. They receive credit for such desserts as apple pie, cream pie, and cobbler. 

Donut shapes are as varied as their history. Was the original donut round? If so, American Hanson Gregory laid claim to inventing the ring-shaped donut in 1847 while working onboard a lime-trading ship. Only 16 at the time, Gregory claims he punched a hole in the center of the dough with the ship’s tin pepper box. Later, he taught the technique to his mother.

Traveling further back in time, we look at an English cookbook. According to anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, an 1803 volume included donuts in the appendix of American recipes. However, the earliest recorded usage of the term donut is found in a short story in a Boston Times article about fire-cakes and dough-nuts published in 1808. 

A more commonly cited first written recording of the word is Washington Irving’s reference to donuts in 1809 in his History of New York. He described balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog fat. The author called them donuts. Today, these nuts of fried dough are called donut holes.

Another author, William Cullen Bryant describes donuts fried in lard in his book Picturesque America or the Land We Live In which was published in 1872.

Donuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, how many National Donut Days are there?

I know of the one that falls on the first Friday in June and the one on November 5. But here’s where there is some confusion. National Donut Day in June pays tribute to the donut lassies that helped soldiers during World War I.

In 1938, Chicago’s Salvation Army started a fundraiser to help people affected by the Great Depression and to pay tribute to the Salvation Army’s Lassies who served donuts to the soldiers.

During World War I, the Salvation Army sent over 200 volunteers to France. Canteens or social centers called huts were set up in abandoned buildings to provide supplies or services like mending clothes and baked goods. Each hut included Salvation Army volunteers. It proved to be challenging to have baked goods freshly baked from these huts.

Then two of the women hit on a novel idea: what if they made donuts to remind the men of home? And so Margaret Sheldon and Helen Purviance collected excess rations for the dough and shell casings and wine bottles for makeshift rolling pins.

The soldiers loved the doughnuts and the female volunteers were nicknamed the Doughnut Girls.

During World War II, doughnuts were handed out by Red Cross Volunteers and they soon became nicknamed the Doughnut Dollies.

Other doughnut-recognized days include the following although there’s no real history behind each that I could locate. Let’s face it, we just love donuts.

  • June 8: National Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day
  • September 14: National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day
  • October 30: Buy a Doughnut Day
Donut holes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is it doughnut or donut?

Donut, an American variant, first appeared in the late 1800s as a contraction of the original spelling. The shortened spelling didn’t immediately catch on, however, and remained mostly dormant until midway through the 20th century.

Print ads for cake and glazed donuts and doughnuts existed since at least 1896 in the United States. George W. Peck published Peck’s Bad Boy and his Pa in 1900. It contained the first known printed use of donut. In it, a character is quoted as saying, “Pa said he guessed he hadn’t got much appetite and he would just drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut.”

In 1919, the Square Donut Company of America was founded. Square donuts offers an easier-to-package product.

The more traditional spelling is doughnut. However, both doughnuts and donuts are pervasive in American English.

Donuts come in a large variety of recipes, flavors, and toppings. However, just like many pastries, we are only limited by imagination and the ingredients at hand. From syrups and jellies to sprinkles and custards, top them, fill them, bake them, or fry them. Donuts have a mouth-watering way of glazing and dusting their way into our shopping carts. They also slip into the break room at work to share.  

Donuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Donut Day activities

  • Go on a donut adventure: Visit your favorite donut shop but don’t go for your usual, instead allow yourself to experiment with different flavors
  • Share the love: Pick out a variety of donuts to share with family and friends
  • Fry ‘em up: Making your own donuts can be an exciting experience to share with friends and family

Worth Pondering…

With a doughnut in each hand, anything is possible.

—Jameela Jamil