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National Doughnut Day: The history of the fried treat - from WW1 to now

The humble doughnut is celebrated every June.

Published: June 4, 2021
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National Doughnut Day, or National Donut Day, is celebrated in the USA and around the world on the first Friday of June. 

The origins of the humble doughnut has been lost in the mists of time but lots of cultures around the world have their own take on sweet fried treats.

 Iain Baillie of Tantrum Doughnuts
Fried rings from Tantrum Doughnuts

Dutch settlers have been long credited with bringing their brand of doughnuts or olykoeks, or oily cakes – sweet dough balls fried in pork fat Stateside. 

Yet a handwritten recipe for “dow nuts” appeared in The Recipe of Book of Barnoness Dimsdale c. 1800 and she lived in Hertford, to the east of St Albans, so who knows?

Wartime Work

The first National Doughnut Day was held in 1938 to celebrate the moral-boosting work done by The Salvation Army in World War I.

The volunteers provided emotional support as well as serving doughnuts to soldiers near the front line.

Salvation Army volunteers near the front line where they could provide a taste of home. Picture: The Salvation Army

In particular two volunteer Salvation Army "Lassies", Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance, were credited with getting the troops queuing round the block for a taste of home. 

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The dynamic doughnut duo, despite the conditions and the limited rations, served 150 doughnuts on the first day of making them.

To keep up with the demand, when they ran out of pots, they rather ingeniously began frying donuts in soldiers’ helmets.

Their efforts boosted morale and won the soldiers’ hearts and has been credited with popularising the humble doughnut when the troops returned home to America. 

In the end when fully up to speed, the Salvation Army volunteers on the frontline could serve between 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts daily. 

Scotland's love affair with the humble doughnut

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts take-away and fast food restaurant, Hermiston Gate, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Scotland’s love affair with fried rings reached zenith when people queued overnight in advance at the opening of new Krispy Kreme store in 2013.

The tailbacks brought traffic chaos to M8 as eager doughnut fans hoped to win a year's supply of free sugar-glazed treats as they queued for opening of new Krispy Kreme at Edinburgh's Hermiston Gait.

Good news

More recently In Australia in 2020, the term 'doughnut day' came to symbolise something else entirely, a reference to a day free of new coronavirus cases.

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Everyone loves a doughnut even when it is a toy one. Picture: John Devlin


Everyone wanted to celebrate that fact with a sweet treat and so donuts selling out became symbol of hope and recovery.

Hard work

We talked to artisan doughnut maker Iain Baillie, from Tantrum Doughnuts in Glasgow, about how he make the perfect ring.

He said: “We make them fresh each morning in small batches and we use a lot of butter and fresh local Corrie Mains eggs from Ayrshire.”

Iain Baillie of Tantrum Doughnuts. Picture: John Devlin

He explains Tantrum doughnuts are made from a brioche dough, which he said, “takes a lot of time to make and then needs to rest.”

The Brioche dough needs time to prove. Picture: John Devlin


The ingredients are mixed and they are proved the first time round for about six hours, before being shaped, and the second time for around four hours.

Then they are rolled and stamped by hand and then fried in rapeseed oil. He explains, the reason is “that it imparts no taste.” 

Tantrum Doughnuts are cut out by hand. Picture John Devlin.

All this happens very early in the morning, and he added: “They are all filled and glazed by hand for delivery to our shops for that day.”

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Mr Baillie believes doughnuts are so popular in Scotland because “anything fried is a winner with Scots! But in all seriousness, I think it’s just a fun, lighthearted pastry that really hits that sweet tooth.”

Iain Baillie from Tantrum Doughnuts
Tasty Tantrum Doughnuts. Picture: John Devlin.
Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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