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Doughnuts’ popularity dates back to WWI

Doughnuts’ popularity dates back to WWI
Doughnuts’ popularity dates back to WWI
Suetta Tingler

The Salvation Army is known for many things, like its thrift shops, red shield logo, the sound of handbells and the hanging red kettles during the Christmas season and the many generous programs the organization supports throughout the year, but did you know it’s credited with popularizing the doughnut in America?

While it might be hard to comprehend, prior to World War I, doughnuts weren’t all that common in the United States.

In 1917, with World War I raging, The Salvation Army sent out a call for volunteers to travel overseas to support its international Christian-based mission to help provide spiritual and physical support to U.S. soldiers fighting in Europe. Approximately 250 volunteers soon found themselves distributing clothing, treating wounds, passing out stationery and writing utensils, playing music on Victrolas, leading religious services and serving hot coffee and treats to soldiers on front lines.

As the war waged on, soldier morale began to sink and fatigue plagued their weary bodies. The breaking point came when troops suffered a long stretch of days with endless rain.

Helen Purviance, a young Salvationist from Huntington, Ind., trusted her ingenuity and hit upon the novel idea of creating aromas and the taste of home to comfort the homesick soldiers. With the help of fellow volunteer Margaret Sheldon, the two women inventoried the available rations that could assist in their cause.

Volunteers recruited by The Salvation Army were given standard-issue gas masks, helmets and revolvers once on the war front, but what they really needed were things like rolling pins, pastry cutters, flour and sugar to make a difference.

At first, Purviance and Sheldon thought about making pancakes but there was no syrup. Then came the idea of making doughnuts for which they found the necessary ingredients. Once organized, the volunteers began kneading dough and shaping by hand thousands of doughnuts a day. Eventually, they used wine bottles to serve as rolling pins, empty condensed milk cans as cutting tools and coffee percolator tops to cut doughnut holes. Doughnuts began to fry, at first in a soldier’s steel helmet where seven at a time could float in the hot lard. The doughnut became the symbol of comfort to the American soldier across the sea.

The women making the doughnuts during World War I became affectionately known as “Doughnut Lassies.” Purviance led the way with her foresight, courage and determination to bring the aroma and taste of home to homesick soldiers fighting the war in Europe. She earned the title of First Salvation Army Doughnut Lassie.

In 1938, The Salvation Army in Chicago established the first National Doughnut Day and ever since it has been observed on the first Saturday in June throughout the United States and a few places in Canada. National Doughnut Day was founded as a way to honor all lassies who fried doughnuts while dodging bombs and as a way to further the mission of The Salvation Army by raising funds to keep the hungry fed during the Great Depression.

Still today, many coffee shops provide free doughnuts on National Doughnut Day with the hopeful expectation of receiving donations that will fund food pantries and dining halls and will assist in keeping the social ministry programs of The Salvation Army thriving.

The distribution of doughnuts to our U.S. Armed Forces as courtesy of The Salvation Army has continued throughout following wars. Saturday, June 5, 2021, was to be no different because front-line workers continuing to fight the war on COVID-19 in hospitals and clinics were to have been offered free doughnuts compliments of The Salvation Army.

Bite by bite, in their own delicious way, doughnuts seem to always make things better. Many war-time soldiers, when handed a doughnut, also received on a small slip of paper this quote: “As you go through life, make this your goal, watch the doughnut, not the hole.”

No matter the who or when, all spirits need a lift from time to time; therefore, don’t hesitate to give these recipes a try for they could possibly glaze someone’s day in fun and sweetness.

World War I ratios allowed these simple and delicious doughnuts to be possible.



(Original World War I recipe)

5 cups flour

2 cups sugar

2 1arge eggs

1-3/4 cups milk

5 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 tablespoon salt

1 tub lard

Combine all ingredients (except for lard) to make dough. Thoroughly knead dough, roll smooth and cut into rings that are less than 1/4-inch thick. Drop the rings into the lard, making sure the fat is hot enough to brown the doughnuts gradually. Turn the donuts slowly several times. When browned, remove donuts and allow excess fat to drip off. Dust with powdered sugar. Let cool and enjoy. Yields: 4 dozen.



1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 large egg

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup canola oil

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Salt, to taste

1-1/4 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease 9-inch spring-form pan or 9- inch round cake pan. Combine all ingredients except strawberries. In large mixing bowl, beat with mixer until well blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of mixing bowl with spatula and continue blending for 1 minute. Pour batter into spring-form pan. Arrange strawberries on top of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean from center of cake. Allow cake to cool 15 to 20 minutes before removing from spring-form and top with cream cheese glaze (recipe follows).


3 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in small bowl and whisk. Drizzle over cake in ribbons. Top with fresh strawberries, if desired.



(“Rise & Dine: Canada’s Bed & Breakfast


2-1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup butter or margarine

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg, beaten

3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk

19-ounce can apple pie filling

1/3 cup currants

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour and sugar in large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly; set aside 1/2 cup of mixture. To the remainder, add baking powder and soda. Separately, combine egg and buttermilk. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Spread 2/3 of batter over the bottom and part way up sides of a greased 9-inch spring-form pan. Combine pie filling, currants and cinnamon; spoon over batter. Drop by spoon the remaining batter over the filling. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Bake approximately 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes before serving.


12 Rhodes Dinner Rolls, thawed but still cold

2 lemon rinds, grated

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

Mix grated lemon rind with sugar; set aside. Cut rolls in half and place in a 9×13-inch baking pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter over rolls. Sprinkle with lemon rind/sugar mixture, reserving 1/2 of mixture to sprinkle on just before baking. Cover with sprayed plastic wrap. Let rise until double in size. Remove wrap. Sprinkle on remaining lemon rind/sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove immediately from pan and place on cooling rack. Drizzle with citrus glaze (recipe follows).


1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon butter, melted

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine powdered sugar, butter and lemon juice. Mix well.