Let's all take a moment to reflect on the history of the donut, our most hallowed of confections...
The year was 1751, a time when America was introduced to its first performing monkey, Frederik of Holstein-Gottorp crowned himself king of Sweden, and France put into motion a plan to tax clergyman. Also?
This was the year that saw the birth of one of the world’s foremost forms of toroidal confection – THE DONUT (or, region depending, “doughnut”).
On April 5, 1751, Baron Pietor Von Peter arrived home from Prussia’a secret war with itself. The war was swift and innocuous – historians often refer to the Prussian self-conflict as “The Great Shrug” or, alternately, “The Year of Breezy Saturdays.” It did not take long for Pietor to realize that, though he had left for the war a whole man… he did not return intact.
As toys were a luxury in the Prussia of 1751, children of all levels of intelligence regularly enjoyed rousing games of “Marbles”, in which water [available in abundance] was poured over, around and through things [things were found mostly in Western Prussia]. Thirteen of the nineteen halfwits born onto Pietor [all born outside of wedlock – though he DID eventually wed one Greta Van Susteren] enjoyed Marbles on a regular basis, and made it clear that there was, in fact, a hole in Pietor’s leg.
Physically, Pietor dealt with his leg-hole in a manner not wholly unbecoming of a survivor of The Great Shrug – he plugged it with swiftness and efficiency. Given most things were found in Western Prussia, Eastern Prussia [where Pietor and his half-wits resided until the summer of 1893] was subsequently left with endless piles of remaindered corks, ripe for the picking. The “solution” as Peitor named it, currently resides in the Smithsonian Institute’s “Five Exhibits from the Year of Breezy Saturdays” (February 1st, 1997-February 18th, 1997). Emotionally, however, Pietor would forever be haunted.
For years, Pietor sought solace in filling every hole he could find (much to the chagrin of those charged with blasting open East-Prussian cork mines). Nearly a decade and fifteen incarcerations later (during which time Pietor rose from Apprentice Prison Baker to Masterary Incarcerated Confectionist), Pietor would finally find purpose.
The post-Shrug economic collapse in Northern Prussia sent those seeking employ south, west and, most notably, east. The surge of migrant cork-sorting labor into the region increased demand for easily consumable foodstuffs, specifically ones that could be consumed while on the Go [a Prussian tributary that served as shipping route from cork collection facilities to the sea]. At the behest of then-new wife Van Susteren (whose burgeoning interest in breeding racing tortoise required incessant funding), Pietor opened a bakery whose sole purpose was supplying portable, fried breads.
Mass production (later perfected by Henry Ford) of Von Peter’s Dough-wads was never an issue – one of the few benefits of having nineteen half-wits under one’s roof. The rough and uneven terrain that needed to be crossed in order to get the product to East Prussian cork miners, however, proved to be a challenge.
Scores of Dough-wads were lost to the dirty, worm-ridden East Prussian soil of the late 18th century. In order to stem the loss of product (as well as address lingering consistency issues with unfried dough at the heart of each wad), Pietor began punching holes through his wads. Once cooked and cooled, each centerless wad would then be stacked on a vertical rod. Not only did this innovation save Pietor’s business (as well as keep the Cork miners fed), but it also saw demand rise for Prussia’s second largest industry – vertical steel rods.
And so, the “dought-nut” was born. It is speculated that the name is derived quite counter-intuitively from the image of all the doughy centers (or, “nuts”) left behind as line after line of confection was produced. Some have also mused the name comes from Pietor’s sheer ingenuity and enthusiasm in the face of staggering socio-economic and geographic adversity.
In August of 1893, the seven surviving Von Peter half-wits packed the living remains of their then 173 year old father into a crate and loaded him onto a dirigible bound for the East Indies (a location Pietor had often demanded his living remains be shipped to, in the event of extreme age). Sadly, Pietor would never see East Indian sky.
Prevailing winds from the great Sea Islands hurricane redirected Pietor’s woefully unmanned dirigible inland on North America’s Eastern coast. As he lay dying within a heap of his own languid limbs and errant dirigible pieces, Pietor Von Peter was happened upon by 19th Century American confectionary Hanson Gregory (Gregory, as fate would have it, had descended from a long line of people who stumbled upon greatness).
Gregory would later go on to claim that he had invented the “dough-nut” in 1847, aboard a lime trading ship, at the age of 16.