November 20, 2006

Homemade doughnuts

I don't have advertisements on my blog, and I've turned down offers to receive money or merchandise for links. But I admit that the following post has an agenda. Over the family email list, we've discovered recently that none of the grandchildren have ever tasted my mother's homemade doughnuts. Ever. This seems to all of us a serious failing. In the past 48 hours, since this shocking discovery was made, I've got no fewer than 30 emails on the topic of doughnuts. So this post is part of a campaign to get my mother to revive the tradition of making doughnuts.

My mother's kitchen was (and still is) painted yellow so it is a sunny place to be on a cold winter day. The kitchen table was where we kids gathered at night to do our homework, or where we played games like Scrabble. The round tin on the top of the refrigerator almost always held homemade cookies. Even to this day, anyone who enters my mother's house sits down right away at the kitchen table, knowing that the tea kettle will soon whistle and the tin of cookies will be opened.

Most winter days when I was a kid, I'd come home from school to find my mother in the kitchen, with an apron tied on over her jeans and turtleneck, baking. Some days she would be making cookies or bread, but often when we were having friends over and she knew she'd have a whole group of hungry people to feed, she made doughnuts.

My mother is very systematic when it comes to baking. The first thing she does is pull out the heavy wooden cutting board to set in the middle of the table. The big board doubles as a game board; it has squares for playing chess on one side and a Scrabble game on the other. My father made that wooden board when he was about Shaggy Hair's age, just about sixty years ago. Next, my mother pulls out all the ingredients and lines them up along the edge of the board. She puts away each bag or bottle or box as soon as she uses it. That way, if she comes to the end of the recipe and something remains on the table, she knows she has left something out.

Back in the doughnut-eating days before people worried about cholesterol and skinny people ate whatever they damned well felt like eating, my mother would make double and triple batches of doughnuts. She would roll the dough out on the wooden cutting board, and then use the little metal doughnut cutter to cut out the round doughnuts. Red-haired Sister claims she can remember when we used to cut out the doughnuts using two different sized glasses – before getting that new-fangled doughnut cutter – but I remember only the metal thingy, which is probably an antique by now. These doughnuts were a bit smaller than the doughnuts you see in bakeries now; desserts had not yet been super-sized.

On the stove, a big pot would be filled with vegetable shortening, which would first melt, and then sizzle. My mother would drop in the first batch of doughnuts, and soon the whole house would be filled with the delicious smell of frying. I loved to peer in and watch the doughnuts plump up as they cooked, my mother flipping them over as they turned a light brown.

On the counter next to the stove, the same counter that held pots of plants and usually a cat staring out at the birdfeeder attached to the window, my mother would place a cookie sheet covered with paper towels. The use of disposable towels indicated the importance of these doughnuts. My mother rarely consents to using something disposable. In her household, a roll of paper towels lasts about six months. An unsuspecting guest once grabbed a handful of paper towels to use frivolously – I think he was drying his hands – and turned to find everyone in the kitchen staring at him in a shocked silence. I have inherited this reluctance to use paper towels; I don't even buy the damned things because I'd feel so guilty using them.

My mother never eats cookies or doughnuts as she makes them. Seriously. She never even so much as tastes a speck of cookie dough. She can make a whole double batch of chocolate chip cookies and never eat one. She will wait until they are all done, and then make herself a cup of tea, and sit down and enjoy the finished product. This trait, inexplicably, has not been passed down to any of her children. My Red-haired Sister and I have been known to buy bulk bags of chocolate chips, which seem so big that no one will notice if you just reach in and grab handfuls of chips as a snack, and we've devoured whole bags without ever making cookies. To be honest, I can probably count the number of times I've made cookies for my kids at all. Much easier just to send them over to their grandmother's house.

Of course, the key to sneaking food while my mother is baking is to volunteer to help. When it came to the doughnuts, I always clamored for the important job of sprinkling cinnamon sugar on the doughnuts. I'd pull over a wooden chair, climb up to make myself tall enough, and stand at the counter, with the shaker filled with cinnamon sugar in my hand. While I waited for the doughnuts, I'd look out at the trees covered with snow, and at the birds in the feeder, just a few feet away. On winter afternoons, the sunlight on the snow gave way quickly to a blue light that signaled the approach of dusk, making me feel lucky to be in a warm kitchen filled with doughnuts.

My mother would pull out the first batch of doughnuts and dump them out on to the paper towels; they'd be plump and brown and sizzling with hot grease. As fast as I could, I'd sprinkle on the sugar so it would stick. And as soon as they were even partially cooled, I'd find one that was a bit misshapen, decree that it was imperfect, and decide it was my duty to eat it.

Few things taste as satisfying as a warm doughnut. And these doughnuts tasted like nothing like the "donuts" sold in stores all over the country now. They were plain, with the texture of bread, and they filled you up wonderfully.

By the time the doughnut making was done, my mother would have two cookie sheets of donuts, cooled and propped into rows, lightly covered with cinnamon sugar. I'd be so full from eating doughnuts that I would be feeling sluggish as I set the table for supper. But that night, we'd all go out skating on the pond in front of the house – my Dad had rigged up a light bulb in the old willow tree so we could skate at night – and after a couple of hours in the cold winter air, playing ice hockey or snap-the-whip, I'd come into the warm house, eager for a cup of hot cocoa and more of those good doughnuts.

32 comments:

ppb said...

now I'm hungry

Anonymous said...

Lovely. Any chance you(r mom) could post the recipe?

Mona Buonanotte said...

I recall my mom making donuts only twice when I was a kid. But the taste of them still lingers somewhere in the recesses of my Krispy-Kremed-out brain.

But cookies...ah...how I could recount every batch of cookies she made!

Now I want to go ice skating with you, jo(e)! Especially if your mom is anywhere nearby....

Yankee, Transferred said...

Come on, Mom, make the doughnuts again!

RageyOne said...

Sounds divine. I want one!

Lisa V said...

I will post about your mother's donuts if I can have some.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Have the grandchildren resorted to pleading? It is hard to imagine that none of the grandchildren has had one of these fabulous sounding donuts!

jane dark said...

Did the grandkids not know about this? It's hard to imagine that they aren't clamoring for donuts (but perhaps now they are...)

Sara said...

I have never been a huge fan of donuts. Regardless of my bias, I feel certain I would like your Mom's donuts. They sound so simple and good.

Bunny said...

I use that same "trick" of getting every ingredient out and putting it away as it's used - too absentminded to keep track myself. Good to know I'm in such prestigous company!!
off now in search of doughnuts. . . .

kathy a said...

they sound wonderful! mom should definitely bring the doughnut recipe out of retirement, for the good of the family. she probably is not into fame and glory, but she'd get that if you were allowed to post the recipe!

our mothers must be polar opposites. the only thing my mother ever baked was aunt jemima coffee cake mix [where you mixed ingredients by kneading them in an included plastic bag, and baked it in an included disposable pan]. vegetables came from cans. the only towels in her kitchen were paper towels. hamburger helper was as close to "from scratch" cooking as she usually got.

halloweenlover said...

This post is criminal. You should allow a pregnant woman to read it, because now the only thing I want is a homemade donut. Sigh.

listmaker said...

Hot cocoa and a homemade donut - sounds heavenly.

Lauren said...

Ohmygarsh.

I can't even read this because I will get Weight Watchers points, but homemade doughnuts sound heavenly, about as good as maple doughnuts from the Maple Festival in Highland County, West Virginia, my epiphanal doughnut experience.

Leslee said...

My mother only made homemade doughnuts once, if memeory serves me correctly. I remember they were very good but my mother deemed them too difficult or messy or something because she never made them again.

I cook like your mom. It doesn't matter what I'm making I can't sneak a piece until they are all done with one exception, chocolate chip cookies.

Anonymous said...

I don't even like donuts, but now I'm dying for one of your mom's.

landismom said...

I was going to comment about your lovely-sounding doughnuts, but I'm afraid I can't get by the paper towels. You don't use paper towels, ever? Really? And you have children?

I'm in awe.

Anonymous said...

This has to go into a book about your childhood. Seriously.

And I want one of your mom's doughnuts.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Oh, we used to make homemade donuts, too. I used to help cut them with the special donut cuttuer that we also used to ake round wreath Christmas cookies. They were good. Mmmm.

We made "gloves" and honey balls too, more great fried dough! Mmmmm!

Anonymous said...

I can relate to this post and the whole "The grandkids have never tasted these wonderful doughnuts!" outcry. My mother used to make doughnuts, when my older siblings were children. By the time I came along (I'm the youngest by a significant number of years), doughnut days were over. I've never had her doughnuts, and given that she's now in her 70s, I fear I never will.

OTOH, if anyone could get her to make them, it would be Pistola. Is it time for me to pull out my not-so-secret weapon so that I can finally, after 30+ years, taste the doughnuts I've heard of my entire life?

Joy said...

It was my father who made the donuts and I helped by shaking the donuts in a paper bag filled with powered sugar. I remember but I remember!

Joy said...

Opps! That last line was to read: I barely remember but I remember!

Ah, well.

jo(e) said...

Landis Mom: No, I don't use paper towels. For years, we always had a ready supply of cotton diapers on hand for mopping up spills, etc. And then, even after all my kids were out of diapers, we continued to use cloth diapers or white cotton rags around the house. We toss them all in a plastic gargage can when we am done with them, and about once a week, the whole can of them gets dumped into the washer and washed, same as we always washed the diapers.

jo(e) said...

Oh, and my mother has agreed to make the doughnuts. She gave in pretty easily, after she logged onto her email and saw about forty messages about the doughnuts.

Right now we are all just debating when. All of the out-of-town grandchildren want to be here for the event.

Girl said...

mmmmmm....donuts.....

I think I just gained 2 lbs reading this...of course that might be because I was drinking an eggnog latte and eating a donut while reading this :)

--girl

PS - thanks for being one of my '3'.

Scrivener said...

My grandmother made olieballen pretty regularly--the one food of hers that I remember with fondness. She'd make them in huge batches and I'd eat as many as I could when they were fresh, and then she'd freeze bags full of them. The fresh ones tasted better, I know, but my more vivid memories are reheating the frozen ones--microwaving them, coating them with powdered sugar, and then heating them a little bit more so the sugar glazed.

BeachMama said...

Nothing beats a homemade donut, hands down. Yumm.

zelda1 said...

My mom made homemade cinnamon rolls and rolls. She made them every single day for as long as I can remember. When I was too young for school, I sat at the table and watched her and she often pinched me off raw dough to eat and I got my own little pan of tiny cinnamon rolls. If I close my eyes, I can still she her hands working the dough.

Mrs. Coulter said...

Our next door neighbor, a lovely older lady who used to babysit me, feed me hot chocolate, and let me beat her at Scrabble, made wonderful homemade donuts. I've never had anything like them anywhere else--store-bought donuts are a pale imitation--though your mother's donuts sound similar.

cloudscome said...

I remember nothing at all of what I was taught in high school algebra or chemestry, but I remember every step in the home ec donut making lessons (and almost everything else we talked about in home ec all the way back through jr. high). We had one of those donut cutters at home too and I made them at home even though my mom didn't like that big pot of grease. This is a great post. I hope you are saving these writings for a book. Or you could read them on NPR sometime... that would be cool!

Anonymous said...

I am a donut maker/baker and your mom’s donuts sound GREAT! Anything made with love, can not get any better or sweeter. Donutedvd.com

Anonymous said...

Bravo to Joe & his Mom! You get todays HOLE-IN-ONE-AWARD!!!(Get-it.....donut story....hole in one.....)