From the Vineyard Gazette editions of March 1948:
Just as the 11th annual observance of National Doughnut Week, March 8 to 15, gets under way and plans are started to honor the memory of Capt. Hanson Gregory of Glen Cove, Me., for having been credited as being the inventor of the hole in the doughnut, Joseph Chase Allen of Vineyard Haven comes forward with a brand new version of the doughnut hole origin. So reads a release from the National Dunking Association, which adds that if editors care to phone Mr. Allen or contact him through the Gazette, they’ll get a good story. No doubt about it, they will. The release continues:
For more than 10 years a hot controversy has been waged about this subject, with the chambers of commerce of Camden and Glen Cove, Me., insisting that the honor belongs to Maine’s native son, who was a ship captain. According to the Maine legend, Captain Gregory used to eat friend cakes while steering his vessel, and one day in 1847 slapped the cakes on the spoke of his steering wheel, making a hole on them. This story was refuted by Henry Ellis, an attorney in Hyannis, who claimed that an un-named Indian actually made the first doughnut hole by shooting an arrow at a New England housewife, missing his mark and landing in the center of a round fried cake, creating the hole.
Believers of the two different legends fought for their particular version for a decade and spouted forth their claims in public print. Finally, three years ago, members of the National Dunking Association, a non-profit, non political organization, formed in 1938 “to spread good cheer and good fellowship through dunking,” took a vote and decided in favor of the Maine story.
However, Author Joseph Chase Allen claims that “if a man was to build doughnuts of a size that would fit over a schooner’s wheel spokes, they would look like lifebuoys.”
Says Mr. Allen: “The friend cake, call it what you please, was brought to this country by the Dutch of New Amsterdam. Washington Irving speaks of the ‘olycoke,’ a sort of sweet cake, friend in deep fat. After the capture of New Amsterdam by the British, Martha’s Vineyard Island became a part of what is now New York state, the estate of the Duke of York.
“Because the Vineyard manors were required to pay quit-rents to the duke or his agent, Francis Lovelace, such rents being payable ‘at the bridge’ in New York, and because the Vineyard settlers were not puritans, but were more like New York Settlers in character, there was a great deal of travel between this Island and New York City. The Vineyard men brought back many ideas and customs from New York, including, I am persuaded, the doughnut.
“Now in those days, and in fact for generations after, there was no such thing as a doughnut cutter. Look through the exhibits of antiques as exhaustively as you like, you will find that I am correct in this. The early doughnut-maker, therefore, cut the dough into narrow strips, and bent them into a circle, sticking the ends together or, more commonly, crossing them, leaving the ends projecting. This was called a ‘dough-knot’. Less than fifty years ago there were still a few elderly Vineyard cooks who made their doughnuts in that manner.
“This is the tale of the doughnut, or dough-knot, as I have learned it from people who, if they were living, would be at least 120 to 130 years of age.”
Mr. Allen has been a surveyor; soldier in the regular Army; commercial fisherman; motorman; farmhand and coasting sailor. His family has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for nearly 300 years, and his grandfather, who sailed from Martha’s Vineyard in whaleships more than a century ago, ate doughnuts fried in the hot sperm oil as it was being rendered.
The National Dunking Association members are still going through with their plans to honor the memory of Captain Hanson Gregory this week. However, they fear another hot controversy in dunking circles and promise to look into Mr. Allen’s story.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
Cheers for our authority on doughknots, Joe Allen! But if he really thinks our early settlers weren’t Puritans, his ancestors must be turning double somersaults in their graves. As for travellers to New York, the only one Dr. Banks tells about, after the Mayhews, got thrown into jail on arrival. However, Matthew Mayhew, who liked his food and drink, probably brought back the doughknot idea.
I don’t know why all the bother about explaining the hole. Some thrifty New England housewife discovered that six centers cut out gave dough to make a seventh for the batch. This was important, when there were 16 children in the family.
Down in New York, they proceeded more generously, they inserted a gob of jelly in the center, instead of cutting it out. This produced the well known “sinker,” delight of my youth. Our maritime Joe will instantly recognize the significance of the name.
Warner F. Gookin
Compiled by Hilary Wall