Who doesn’t love a doughnut – or an excuse to eat one!? It’s Doughnut Day on June 1st, so the perfect excuse to indulge, but also a time to reflect on the little known origins of the not-so-humble doughnut.
Originating in America and now embraced by all doughnut lovers the world over, Doughnut Day was established to honour The Salvation Army’s ‘Doughnut Lassies’, who served the sweet treats to soldiers on the front lines during World War I.
Doughnuts were first delivered to the trenches in 1917, when American Salvation Army Officers, Helen Purviance and Margaret Sheldon as volunteers were assigned to the frontline in France and supplied with gas masks, pistols and a mission to boost the morale of the new American recruits.
They were determined to cook the troops a treat to give them a taste of home and decided on making doughnuts. Ingredients were scarce, and the two needed to beg the residents of a nearby village for eggs, raid ration packs for sugar and invent new methods of making and shaping these doughnuts – including using ammunition shells as rolling pins and tin cans as cutters!
Owing to limited resources, doughnuts were fried only seven at a time and although the girls worked late into the night, they could serve only 150 doughnuts that first day. The next day, that number was doubled and as the war carried on around them, they risked their lives to supply the troops with as many donuts as they could produce. When fully equipped for the job they, along with other lassies along the frontline trenches, managed to fry between 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts daily, with doughnuts tents being set up at posts all along the front line.
The simple doughnut became a symbol of all that the Salvation Army was doing to ease the hardships of the frontline fighting man — the canteens in primitive dugouts and huts, the free refreshments, religious services, concerts, and a clothes-mending service.
When World War I ended and the troops returned home, a new demand for this delicious delicacy swept the country. 20 years later as Europe prepared to return to war, a new national holiday was declared in the US called ‘Doughnut Day’ — a commemoration and a celebration of the war effort.
Doughnuts are readily available today across the world, and here in Australia, in any flavour imaginable (and then some!), however, if you’d like to try making the original doughnuts as homage to those remarkable women on the front line, here’s the recipe:
Original Salvation Army Doughnut Recipe
5 cups plain flour
2 cups caster sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk
1 tub lard or canola oil to deep fry
1. Combine all ingredients (except the lard or oil) to make dough.
2. Knead dough, roll smooth and cut into rings less than a quarter thick.
3. Drop the rings into hot oil and turn slowly several times.
4. When browned, remove doughnuts and allow the fat to drip off.
5. Dust with sugar and serve.