Early American Doughnuts

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Parts of England, too, had a tradition of serving fritters for Shrove Tuesday, although most did not resemble anything we would call a doughnut. The one exception comes from Hertfordshire. William Ellis gives a recipe for these Hertfordshire Cakes, Nuts and Pincussions as early as 1750 in The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, noting that they are made by shaping a yeast dough in the shape of walnuts. A little later in the century, a manuscript cookbook compiled by Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale actually calls them “dow nuts.” It is reasonable to assume that the New England settlers, many of whom traced their origin to precisely this part of England, brought the name and recipe with them, although as Puritans, they left behind any Carnival association.