Monday, July 8, 2019

The Hole in the Doughnut and Book Excerpt by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #inventions #doughnuts #donuts

I will confess that I have a fondness for doughnuts. For me, doughnuts are as versatile as Forrest Gump’s shrimp.

You can deep-fry them, bake them, fill them, frost them, and freeze them. There are doughnut holes, long john doughnuts, glazed doughnuts, sprinkled doughnuts, cake doughnuts, pumpkin spice doughnuts, blueberry cake doughnuts, old fashioned doughnuts, coconut topped doughnuts. Doughnuts for breakfast. Doughnuts for brunch. Doughnuts with coffee. Doughnuts with champagne. Doughnuts for lunch. Doughnuts for afternoon snack. Doughnuts for supper. Doughnuts at midnight… 

The concept of ‘doughnut’ evolved from lumps of dough dropped in boiling oil and cooked until golden brown. But how did the hole come about? Well, read on.

According to an article by Esther Inglis-Arkell*:

 “…the makings of doughnuts made it to American shores in the 1700s, when the Dutch came over. They were just deep-fried balls of dough sometimes spiced for flavor, and called ‘oilycakes’….Captain Hanson Gregory claimed to have been the first to put the hole in the oilycake, having thought it up in 1847 at the age of 16 during a long sailing voyage. He popped the middle out of the centers of dough with the lid of a pepper tin, and invented the modern doughnut…”

[Side Note: Supposedly, Captain Gregory’s inspiration to put a hole in oilycakes was to mitigate the drownings that followed when sailors over-indulged in large oilycakes… Inquiring minds want to know if the sailors became ‘drunk’ on oilycakes, stumbled around the deck, toppled overboard, and sank like they had lead in their bellies. *shrug* Sounds fishy to me.]

But, an article on the Engines of Our Ingenuity** website explains the invention of doughnuts in a similar fashion (without the drowning reference):

“…article that attributes [the invention of doughnuts] to Maine sea captain Hanson Gregory. Gregory’s ship was named Frypan, and he fed his sailors ‘fried cakes’, made according to his mother’s recipe. A problem with those otherwise delicious cakes was that their centers were seldom fully cooked. In 1847, Gregory punched out the center of a cake…for a far more uniformly cooked doughnut.”

However, since anyone could have figured out to poke a hole in a piece of dough, deep-fry it, and slather it with a sweet concoction, an argument can be made that John F. Blondel gets the credit for creating the doughnut in the form we know today.
Arnold Gatilao [CC BY 2.0 (]
Blondel was issued a patent on July 9, 1872 for ‘a new and useful improvement’ on the doughnut cutter’. Note the word ‘improvement’, not original invention.

His doughnut cutter was crafted from spring-loaded blocks of wood that, when pressed, punched holes through dough. (beefed-up hole punch) This greatly simplified, and enhanced, a doughnut seller’s productivity.

[click image to enlarge details] Patents. Improvement in doughnut-cutters.
My doughnut cutter:

Kaye's hand-me-down doughnut cutter

Cowboys in the Old West called doughnuts ‘bear sign’, and they were a delicacy they would ride miles out of their way to enjoy. The slang bear sign came about because these doughnuts didn’t look like the modern day doughnuts we know. They more closely resembled a pile of bear poop (beat scat), hence, bear sign (a sign that bears were in the area).

Here is the doughnut excerpt from my western romance, The Gunfighter’s Woman.

“Howdy, ma’am.”

“Hello, gentlemen. I never turn away an injured or hungry man. Help yourself to water and cool yourselves in the shade over there.” Brenna waved toward the summer table. “But if your intentions are otherwise, I invite you to leave now in the same healthy condition as when you arrived.”

Matt smiled when she lifted the shotgun barrel a few inches to make her not-so-subtle point.

“Thank you, ma’am. I promise, we mean no ill toward you. I expect you’re Mrs. Gérard?”

“Yes. What is your business?”

“We just come through Trinidad headed to Laramie, and we offered to deliver these letters to you.” He reached inside his vest and brought out two letters. The cowboy dismounted, handed his reins to his partner, and walked to Brenna.

Matt crossed the yard, keeping close to the buildings, and though neither cowboy looked toward him, Matt knew from the glances they exchanged they were aware of his approach.

“Thank you. That was thoughtful, but also considerably out of your way.”

“Our pleasure, and we don’t mind.” The cowboy took a respectful step back. “To be honest, we could have been here yesterday, but we’d heard tell you make bear sign— doughnuts—on Sunday mornings, so we waited. And word got to us that the postmaster was looking for someone comin’ this way who would bring letters and…” The cowboy ducked his head, turning his hat in his hands like it was a wagon wheel rolling along.

Brenna smiled at his confession. “I do have doughnuts. They’re still warm. I’ll bring them to the table along with coffee and milk. Make yourselves at home.”

Matt recognized the men. “Akins. Myerson. Been a long time.”

Both men turned to him. Akins, the cowboy who’d done the talking asked, “Caddock? Matt Caddock? Well, I’ll be damned.” He shot a sheepish look toward Brenna. “Sorry, ma’am.” He held out his hand, and Matt shook it. “How did you end up here? Last we heard, you’d taken an arrow somewhere up in the high country. Also heard you hooked up with Archer.”

“You heard right on both, but I got shut of him.”

Akins pushed back the front of his hat, nodding. “I hear what you’re sayin’. He’s runnin’ a mean game. Story is, he blew a section of tracks down around Lamy for the payroll on the train. Waited until dark and wasn’t ridin’ a horse anyone recognized. Looks like he got away with it.”

Myerson added, “Watch your back trail. Couple of fellas in Trinidad said they’d heard Archer’d headed down toward Big Spring looking for you.” He dismounted and shook Matt’s hand.

“Thanks for the warning. He and his boys worked me over down in Maxwell a while back. I left them wishing they hadn’t.” “Well,  now  that  you’re  shut  of  him,  best  stay  that  way. Archer  kills  just  for  sport,  and  he  likes  the  sound  of  big

“That, he does. Always made me nervous that he carried a couple of sticks of dynamite in his saddlebags, though I never was around when he used them. I’d appreciate you not mentioning you saw me here, or anywhere else.”

“That road runs both ways.” Matt nodded that he understood.

The men drank their fill of coffee and milk and, between them, ate a plate full of doughnuts before riding off with more doughnuts tied-up in an old tea towel.


The doughnut recipe that was handed down through the generations in my family is available on one of my Pinterest boards. Click here: Doughnuts

 Available on
Kindle | KindleUnlimited | Print

Here are two doughnut articles of interest:

Doughboy Center: The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces – Doughnut! The Official Story -

A Short History of Doughnuts -

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

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*Inglis-Arkell, Esther. Gizmodo. The Scandalous History and Strange Physics of Donuts. 2013.04-19.Accessed: 2019.07-06.

**Lienhard, John H. Engines of Our Ingenuity, No. 1784: A Priority Allegory.Web. Accessed: 2019.07-06.

Moy, Suelain. The Fiscal Times. The Hole Truth: Celebrating a Huge Day in Doughnut History. Web. Accessed: 2019.07-06.


  1. Darn. I lose another bet with my wife that doughnuts are a dutch derivative.
    Great article. Thanks.

    1. You know, I did come across different doughnut origin theories. Maybe you haven't really lost that argument... lol

  2. I love glazed donuts the most. I often wax nostalgic for the ones my parents bought in the Fifties: Bigger than today's standard and grease dripping out of them. Found in bakeries in Fresno, CA.

    1. Oh, I do remember those yummy glazed doughnuts from my childhood. They tasted so much better than what we can purchase nowadays. ;-)

  3. Before I stopped eating gluten, donuts were one of my favorite rewards for a hard week at work. I can still taste that mix of fried dough and sugar. (Sigh)

    I enjoyed "The Gunfighter's Woman". A great story. Doris

    1. Doris,
      I worked in a bakery for a year many years ago, and the experience almost turned me off to ever eating doughnuts again I'd get home from work and the doughnut-frying smell was in my clothes and my hair... There was a period of several years that I couldn't stand the smell of doughnuts. Thankfully, I got over it. lol

    2. I had a similar experience with maple syrup. I was a sailor, in the 60s, on a destroyer, a ship that rocked and swayed endlessly, making my stomach upset for days at a time. The galley always seemed to reek f maple syrup, raising my discomfort level to nautious. It was a long time afterward before I could stand to be in the same room with that stuff.