Ways to Celebrate National Doughnut Day

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As you may have heard, Friday, June 6 is National Doughnut Day!
This year marks the 77th anniversary of this holiday started by the Salvation Army. It’s always the first Friday in June.

Read more about the history here. Don’t miss the video on this page that has great historic footage. The Salvation Army played a big role in making donuts the popular treat that they are today. Female volunteers, named “donut lassies” served donuts to soldiers serving overseas in World War I. After the War they continued to serve donuts at places like the Doughnut Hut in New York City’s Union Square and as fundraisers. There’s even a song from 1919, “Don’t Forget the Salvation Army (My Doughnut Girl)”.

For anyone looking for ways to celebrate this delicious holiday, here are some suggestions.

Visit your local donut shop!
There’s nothing better than a fresh donut, even David Letterman said so. You could also bring in donuts for your co-workers. Donuts at work are a wonderful thing to share.

Read about donuts!
One of my favorites is The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg, granddaughter of Adolph Levitt, inventor of the “Wonderful Almost Human Automatic Donut Machine.” With this machine, his founding of the Doughnut Corporation of America and the Mayflower Doughnut shops (the first chain of donut shops) Levitt also played a huge role in popularizing the donut. Steinberg tells her family story and also the broader history of the donut from the times of the Bible up through early 2000, including the Doughnut Plant, an early leader in the gourmet donut movement.

Another fantastic book is Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut by Paul R. Mullins. He writes, “Anthropologists have always understood that eating is among the most social acts people have shared across time,” and his perspective as an anthropologist broadens our understanding of the importance of the donut. He unearths details about the donut’s history including interviews with immigrants who were served donuts when they first arrived at Ellis Island, examines histories of various donut corporations, and also discusses developments like the Cambodian immigrants who have opened donut shops in California.

The newest donut book out is The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin by Michael Krondl which is being released June 6th. Stay tuned for my review of it.

Read to your kids about donuts!
My love for donuts started when I was 4. Do your part to foster the next generation of donut lovers by taking them to donut shops and reading donut books to them. While classics include “The Doughnuts” in Homer Price by Robert McCloskey and Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty, a new toddler-approved classic is The Donut Chef by Bob Staake.

And if nothing else, keep in mind the motto from the Mayflower Doughnut Shop:
“As you ramble on thru life brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole!”

Britt’s Donut Shop: 75 Years of Making Doughnuts & Memories

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Britt’s Donuts at Carolina Beach turns 75 this year! To celebrate this donut milestone I wrote about people’s memories about Britt’s and the new book, Britt’s Donuts: Forever Sweet. There’s even a Britt’s Fan Club these days too. Read all about these in my latest post for Our State Eats here. Then go ahead and plan your next visit to Britt’s.

Photographs by Christine R. Choi.

Decades of Doughnut Making Experience: Where the Locals Go, Part 2

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Part 2 in a series for Our State Eats about North Caolina bakeries and pastry shops that make donuts. Each of these shops have decades of donut making experience: Paul’s Pastry Shop in Burlington, Fancy Pastry Shop in Lexington, and Sweet Shoppe Bakery in High Point. Read part 1 of this series here.

Looking back at the Closing Weekend for “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” at the City Reliquary

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“Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” closed at the City Reliquary Museum on Sunday, March 2, 2014. It was an absolute delight to share the history of New York City’s donuts and donut shops with everyone who visited. We received wonderful media coverage up to the very end of the exhibit including a video by NBC New York that ran in the back of New York City taxis in the final week and we were a weekend pick on WNYC. To celebrate the final weekend we also had some special events.

On Saturday, March 1st Sally Levitt Steinberg, author of The Donut Book gave a wonderful talk and Carpe Donut NYC brought their delicious donut truck to the City Reliquary. Sally is the granddaughter of Adolph Levitt, inventor of the “Wonderfully Almost Human Automatic Donut Machine.” She talked about the history and origins of donuts. Some of my favorite quotes include:
“Who invented the donut? We all did. It’s been around since Bible times.”
About her grandfather’s creating the automatic donut machine: “He created something more American than he was.”
On how doughnut became donut. Adolph Levitt “shortened it for pr purposes. He took out the oug.”

The Donut Book was a pioneering moment in preserving donut history and it remains an invaluable must-read resource. “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” was also greatly informed to the great materials from Sally’s Donut Ephemera Collection that she donated to the National Museum of American History. It was a pleasure to meet the Donut Princess and to build upon the great donut history foundation she’s provided. A number of members of the Levitt family also visited the exhibit and it was great to share some artifacts about Adolph Levitt’s legacy and hear their stories.

On Sunday we held a final meeting of the Donut Dunkers Club. We handed out donuts, coffee (generously provided by Oslo), and Donut Dunkers Club cards to attendees and then got to work reviewing the Rules for Dunking. The 2 1/2 seconds for dunking the donut in the coffee is important to abide by. Attendees shared their own dunking techniques and donut memories. Additional photos from the closing weekend can be seen on the City Reliquary’s Facebook page here.

While the donut exhibit has closed, don’t forget that you can still visit the 9 present-day donut shops that we highlighted in it. Here’s a map of them to help you find them.

It was an amazing experience to present “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” at the City Reliquary. I am so thankful for the City Reliquary’s embrace of this exhibit and their devotion to New York City’s everyday history. They are truly one of city’s greatest treasures and more cities need reliquaries like this.

Tremendous thanks to Anna Olivia Grant for the beautiful photographs of the 9 present-day donut shops that we highlighted and for all her help in making this exhibit possible (don’t miss the interview I did with her here). Thank you to all of the donut shop owners highlighted in this exhibit for sharing their stories with us. Thank you to everyone at the City Reliquary, particularly Bill Scanga for installing the exhibit so beautifully. Thank you also to Dave Herman for taking me on as a volunteer back when I lived in Williamsburg. Thank you to Matt Levy and Jeff Tancil for all of their help too.

One of the questions I’ve gotten is, where will the exhibit go next? There’s no plans yet for additional venues, but I am willing to talk more to anyone who’s interested in showing it. Additional research and reframing of the exhibit would be needed, but I’d love to share the donut’s history and the history of donut shops in other cities with more donut lovers out there.

All slideshow photographs by Anna Olivia Grant.

Interview: Anna Olivia Grant, photographer for “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut”

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If you’ve seen “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” at the City Reliquary, you may be wondering who took the beautiful photographs of the nine present day donut shops that we highlighted in the exhibit.

The woman behind the lens is Anna Olivia Grant, a photographer, photo stylist, and souvenir maker who lives in Cobble Hill. Anna and I met in the M.A. Art History program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and we’ve been friends ever since. This is our first official collaboration. She also designed the logo for this exhibit. It was such a delight to do some initial visits to donut shops back in June with Anna, and she returned to each to take the photographs on view in the donut exhibit.

Ever wonder what it’s like to photograph hundreds of donuts? Read this interview I conducted with Anna.

What was your favorite part about photographing these donut shops?

Anna Olivia Grant: It was so much fun to meet the people who ran the donut shops. You find that all the shops have great distinctions between them, but a constant was how nice they all were. They were so excited to have something that they worked so hard on being photographed.

What was the most challenging part about taking photographs of donuts and the donut shops?

AG: People want you to eat a lot of donuts, more than I could handle, and I love donuts. You can’t turn them down, so you have to take them. They were all so amazing too. But walking to get to these donut shops burned off any that I ate.

Are there any technical details that you’d like to reveal about your process?

AG: I had a lot of luck in terms of the daylight I caught in each shop. I also used a really fast lens if I was in the back of shops. The fast lens helped catch movement, like when I photographed them making donuts and shaking the powdered sugar at Mike’s Donuts.

Do you have a favorite type of donut?

AG: I started out as a Pom Pom fan (laughs). I was an evangelist for Pom Poms, especially the ones from Peter Pan. They still hold a special place in my heart. But the diversity of the donuts that I ate made me think I no longer have allegiance to a specific donut. (laughs) Before this I didn’t like raised donuts, but then I had an amazing one, and I love them now. The Paris Time sugar from Doughnuterry was amazing, as well as the Lemon Ginger from Dough. The strawberry glazed with sprinkles from Shaikh’s was enchanting as well as anything glazed from Mike’s Donuts.

What else did you learn about donuts?

AG: Some of the most delicious donuts don’t photograph the best. But they were so delicious.

What is your background in photography?

AG: I’ve learned a lot from experimenting. I’ve taken only two photography classes. What I generated in those never used the principles being taught in class so the teachers were never happy since I couldn’t replicate what they wanted me to, but I still learned a lot. I was really lucky to take classes at F.I.T. and to get to see images there and what people were capable of doing with the equipment that they had.

There are thousands of donut photos from this project.  Sometimes if I wasn’t getting the result I wanted, I would sit with the donut for hours.

I love pictures of food too. I had a subscription to Gourmet magazine when I was 11. The aesthetic qualities of food is one of my favorite things to look at.

Is there anything from the photo styling work that you’ve assisted with, that was helpful to this project?

AG: Figuring out what people want for the photograph that you’re taking and that communication is key. Your curatorial needs had all of these things that needed to be photographed for the exhibit: the outside, the inside, the single donut, a person, so I was always trying to work to get those shots. I definitely used what I had learned about working in a set time frame, even though sometimes I could go back to get a shot I needed, and another donut.

Did anything unexpected happen while shooting these photographs?

AG: Other than getting frosting in all the buttons in my camera? (laughs). The immediate reception that I got at some shops was amazing. Being there for 3 or 4 hours I got to know the people working and I felt the camaraderie. Now when I go back to the donut shops I’m just as warmly welcomed. It’s amazing.

Did any other photographer’s work inspire your approach to this project?

AG: All of those Art History classes we took, all of the principles of composition, the color theory, patterning, color studies, that was all there playing a part. There are hundreds of artists that I thought about when I looked at the donuts, the configurations, the colors. From Pop Art to Wayne Thiebaud, even Frans Hals’s neck ruff, I saw those art historical references in donuts.

How many donuts did you eat while shooting these photographs?

AG: Most of these photos I shot over the course of two solid weeks. I think I ate 25 donuts. I was lucky to also share a lot with friends.

What did you learn from this project?

AG: That I really do love taking photographs of food and getting to interact with the people who make it.

All slideshow photographs by Anna Olivia Grant. Want to contact Anna? Reach her at anna.o.grantATgmail.com

Even More Great Media Coverage about “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut”

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I am delighted that “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” continues to inspire more great media coverage!
Remember the exhibit is on view at Brooklyn’s City Reliquary through Sunday, March 2.

WFUV Cityscape:  The Wonderful World of Donuts
30 minutes of donut talk! I’m interviewed on this program along with Buzzy Geduld, owner of Donut Pub, and Donna Siafakas, owner of Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop.

The Late Show with David Letterman: Donuts Top Ten
“Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” inspired a Top Ten List on Letterman!

Thrillist: Why NYC deserves All the Credit for the Existence of the Doughnut
13 examples of historic doughnut contributions from NYC.

See the other wonderful media coverage we’ve gotten in previous blog posts here and here.