Remembering Doughnuts

TALKING TO MYSELF: 5 NOV 2012 This morning I am remembering doughnuts, thanks to a correspondent who shared a New York Times piece about Kentucky's unique contributions to this culinary niche. I don't eat them often anymore per doctor's orders, but I remember them, oh, I remember them. It's not everyday that Kentucky gets a mention in the NYT travel section, and I admit that I've never thought of doughnuts as being a bluegrass food specialty. Not like beaten biscuits and old country ham. Not like Benedictine spread or burgoo or blackberry jam cake with caramel icing. No, doughnuts are like air. They just are. I've assumed good doughnuts could be found everywhere on earth. I do recall being slightly surprised at the over-the-top histrionics of the preppie crowd when they discovered the Krispie Kreme chain a decade or so ago and pushed its stock to the top of the heap. (Now these poor fat-deprived over-achievers have discovered bacon, and this Kentucky gal says duh?)  I enjoy a hot Krispie Kreme, plain glazed or creme-filled preferably, but really, what was the big deal, I kept asking? Most towns in Kentucky locally produce doughnuts that are better, and now the New York Times agrees with me. I'll go a step further and say that Spalding's Bakery in Lexington, which the NYT writer mentions, cooks up the best that exist in the entire world every day of the week (except on Mondays and Tuesdays when they lie down to rest and take a breath, because, after all, they've been doing this since 1929.)  People start cueing up for these before the doors swing open at six -thirty a.m., and when they're gone, they're gone. Those toward the back of the line often leave empty handed.

My presonal relationship with doughnuts - well, it's been more like a love affair - began when I was a young child in my mother's kitchen. Our new electric range was equipped with a built-in deep fryer that Mother would fill to the brim with melted lard rendered from our farm's hog lot. When the grease got hot enough to bubble, she would drop heaping tablespoons of yeasty dough into the vat. The dough balls would sink to the bottom, and I would briefly panic. But after a moment's hesitation, they would re-surface and sit there happily bobbing until they were golden brown. When they were "just right" Mother would lift them carefully with a slotted spatula from the scalding fat and drop them into a waiting brown bag filled with powdered sugar. My job was to gently shake the bag until the doughnuts were completely white with half-melted, gummy sweetness. Then -- Daddy and I gobbled them all down while they were still hot.

Hot doughnuts played a significant role in my education at Transylvania University, too. My friends and I discovered that a little hole in the wall doughnut shop a half block away on Third Street pulled its doughnuts from the fryers between nine and ten o'clock every night. Actually, this timing wasn't hard to discover because the sizzling aroma was reliably punctual, and beckoned us like a siren's song.  A ritual began. We'd take a break from studying and time our walk "to stretch our legs," so that we would  amble past the shop at the peak of the doughnuts' freshness. Each night, we'd pretend this wasn't our destination, and go through a "oh, why not?" routine out on the sidewalk. Afterwards, stoked on carbs, we'd return to our cubbies more brilliant than before we left, and write papers through the night. I don't recall ever taking any of the sweet treats back with me to enjoy later, though. We would only eat them while the hot grease was still clinging to their edges. Alas, no one in my crowd can remember the name of that long defunct shop.

But I do remember their doughnuts - with gratitude - and all the other doughnuts along my life's sweet journey. Thank you, William Grimes, for encouraging me to take a sentimental road trip this morning.

Follow William Grimes' Kentucky treasure map for a delicioius autumn ride:


©Copyright Georgia Green Stamper

Georgia's newest collection of essays, Butter in the Morning (Wind) will be released in early December.