Ways to Celebrate National Doughnut Day

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This first Friday in June is always National Doughnut Day! 2014 was the 77th anniversary of this holiday started by the Salvation Army. 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!”

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.

2 Weeks Left to see the Donut Exhibit at the City Reliquary & Closing Weekend Events

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There are two weeks left to see the “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” exhibit at the City Reliquary! I also wanted to announce some special events that we have planned for the final weekend, March 1st and 2nd. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 1, 3 p.m.
Talk by Sally Levitt Steinberg, author of The Donut Book

Celebrate the final weekend of our “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut: Donut Shops Past and Present of Brooklyn and Manhattan,” exhibit with a talk by Sally Levitt Steinberg, America’s reigning donut princess, and author of The Donut Book.

In her talk, Sally will trace key moments in the history of the donut. From doughy origins in the biblical era, to the momentous invention of the “Wonderful-Almost-Human-Automatic-Donut-Machine” by her grandfather, to the gourmet turn donuts have taken in recent years, we’ll learn how these innovations have led to the sweet treat we’re so familiar with today.

Copies of “The Donut Book” will be available for purchase at the City Reliquary.
Lecture free with paid museum admission of $5 per person.

Carpe Donut NYC plans to bring their truck and have donuts for sale on this special day too. Stay tuned for updates!
Facebook invite here.

Sunday, March 2, 4 p.m.
Second (and final) meeting of the Donut Dunkers Club at the City Reliquary!

Come celebrate the last day of our “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” exhibit at our final Donut Dunkers Club meeting at the City Reliquary Museum! A revival of the 1930s National Dunking Association, this club will meet to practice donut dunking techniques, and will be led by the Reliquary’s own Donut Historian, Julie Thomson (that’s me!). Everyone who attends will receive an official Donut Dunkers Club membership card, and donuts and coffee will be served for dunking (and eating) purposes.

Free with paid museum admission of $5. Facebook invite here.

If you haven’t seen the donut exhibit yet, be sure to stop in before March 2nd! The City Reliquary is located at 370 Metropolitan Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and is open Thursdays-Sundays 12-6 p.m. Suggested admission is $5.

Two donut items not in the exhibit, because I’ll be wearing them

Donut necklace charm and pin

While most of my collection of donut ephemera is on view at the City Reliquary for Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut, these are two objects I left out since I’ll be wearing them at this weekend’s opening events. The first is a silver charm with the Mayflower Doughnut shop motto on the front. I discovered it online and it came with very little information. On the back it has this info: DCA June 1964 GDM. DCA at that time would have stood for DCA Food Industries, what Doughnut Corporation of America was renamed in 1956. Perhaps this was some sort of award for employees of the company with the initials GDM? I would love to find out more about it.

The motto on this necklace is special to me since when I was growing up it was on a mug (on view in the exhibit) that belonged to my Mom. As a child this motto felt mysterious to me, but today I agree wholeheartedly with the optimistic perspective it promotes.

The pin is another version of signaling one’s membership in the National Dunking Association which I mentioned in a previous post. In the invaluable The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg (granddaughter of Adolph Levitt, the founder of the Doughnut Corporation of America), she tells a story of wearing a similar pin on her first day of first grade. In the exhibit I discuss the rich history of the Doughnut Corporation of America and its contributions to popularizing the donut in greater detail.

Join us this weekend for the opening events for Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut and you’ll likely get to see these two objects.
Saturday, December 7, 6-9 p.m. Opening Celebration & Donut Party
Sunday, December 8, 3 p.m. Gallery Talk and meeting of the Donut Dunkers Club