Much Ado About…Nothing

Ever wonder where donut holes come from? There seems to be an obvious answer. But is it the right one? Before we batter that idea around, let’s drill a bit deeper into the hole story of the donut.

Hidden in middens at ancient Native American archaeological digs scientists have found small round cakes. Some had holes in the center. Some young archaeological students at the digs became quite ill. Coincidence? I leave it to you.

But who made the first donut? There are some sweet stories about this, but the name that rises most frequently is an American named Hanson Gregory, a sailor (not a cop, as is often thought). 

There can be no doubt donut lovers owe thanks and calories to Hanson and to his mother, Mrs. Gregory, who baked olykoeks, a “wicked deep-fried dough that cleverly used her son’s spice cargo of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with lemon rind”* in the center of the cakes, packed them in a cardboard box, and sent them along with her sailor son as he left on the early morning tide. She was heard to mutter as she climbed out of her cozy bed, “It’s time to make the donuts.”* The small cakes helped stave off not just hunger, but scurvy as well. The crew were grateful, but Mrs. Gregory would modestly reply it was the very yeast she could do for them.

But what about the donut hole? Some say the reel story came about because sailors don’t like nutmeg and cinnamon and orange rind in the middle of their cakes. Using their knives, they carefully removed the centers and threw them to the seagulls (which is why gulls follow after sailing ships in great profusion). Hanson’s own mother claims her son, a picky eater, was dissatisfied with the often undercooked mushy interior of the cake and removed it himself. In yet another version Hanson’s boss, Captain Crunch, remembers a stormy night off Denmark with Hanson at the helm, eating a donut and unable to keep both hands on the wheel. With typical American inventiveness, he spike his donut onto a spoke and solved the problem. Following that fateful night, every helmsman demanded donuts with portholes.

None of these donut stories are well prooved, each has an obvious hole, but regardless poor battered Mrs. Gregory now faced the additional complication of removing the centers from her cakes. We can only assume she set her alarm twice; once to make the donuts, once to carve out the centers. No one knows what happened to all those donut holes she removed, but there are those who say the term “fat cat’ was born in Camden, Maine, where the Gregorys lived. It is asserted the term referred to wealthy ship’s captains and merchants who resided in the area. But I believe the term might well have originated in more of a feline context.  

  • Nod to Smithsonian Magazine
  • Many nods to Dunk’n Donuts


If you can find all the puns, go treat yourself to a donut.

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