War is hell. Doughnuts are not.
When a reluctant America entered World War I in 1917, the Salvation Army was not far behind. Literally. Several women from the evangelical Christian organization volunteered to make a “home away from home” for the soldiers of the 1st Ammunition Train, 1st Division in France, according to food writer and historian John T. Edge’s book, “Donuts: An American Passion.” This makeshift “home” was not far from the trenches where front-line troops were battling for every inch in the world’s first modern war.
The Salvation Army’s “Lassies,” as the female volunteers were known, often darned socks, mended uniforms or provided chocolates to the troops, Edge wrote. But the boys wanted more, so Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance jury-rigged a method to fry doughnuts, either using a galvanized trash can or a soldier’s helmet filled with lard. Accounts varied, Edge noted. However the women fried the snacks, the doughnuts soon became popular with the troops, who would eagerly wait in line for them. Edge continued:
[T]here is no doubt that their decision to fry donuts would transform fried dough from a vaguely foreign food, loosely associated with the Dutch, into a symbol of American home and hearth, a gustatory manifestation of the ideals for which the soldiers fought. That first day, the two Lassies fried just 150 or so donuts. But as word of their loaves-and-fishes miracle spread, other Lassies took up the cause.
The Salvation Army’s doughnut ministry in World War I would become legend, which the organization gladly promoted to any interested media outlet. The Lassies were immortalized in films, magazines and even song. But it took the Great Depression for the Salvation Army to turn the Lassies’s efforts into an annual campaign: The first National Doughnut Day — it falls on the first Friday in June annually — started in Chicago in 1938 as a way to raise money for the needy, of which there were many back in the 1930s.
On its 80th anniversary, Depression-era Americans might marvel at what National Doughnut Day has become: an excuse to gobble down all the free rounds you can find in one day. Or an opportunity to introduce a new product that no one needs. Or just a chance to draw attention to a chain that has nothing to do with doughnuts.
Am I wandering uncomfortably close to Old Man Yells at Clouds territory? I mean, there’s probably no harm in satisfying your inner Homer Simpson with a free doughnut. Or four. At least for one day, right?
Should you have the time, the access to these businesses and a willingness to suffer the inevitable sugar spike, here are five national chains offering free (or free with a purchase) doughnuts on Friday, June 1:
Walmart. Every single store in this retail behemoth will be giving away free doughnuts. According to a Walmart spokesman, the retailer expects to pass out 1.2 million doughnuts. One presumes this is not part of the “Let’s Move” campaign.
Dunkin’ Donuts. The national chain is offering a free classic doughnut with the purchase of any beverage. Among the flavors considered “classic”: glazed, glazed chocolate cake, Boston Kreme, jelly and strawberry frosted with rainbow sprinkles. The last one, presumably, is a concession to the preteen lobby.
Krispy Kreme. The national chain, famous for its “hot now” signs, requires no purchase to pick up a free doughnut. Nor does Krispy Kreme restrict the flavors. You are, however, limited to one freebie — unless you feel like hitting all the KK locations in your geographical area.
Edible Arrangements. The fruit bouquet company will be passing free “edible donuts,” which are not made with fried dough at all. They’re Granny Smith apples cut to resemble doughnuts, then dipped in semisweet chocolate and sprinkled with different toppings. It may be the closest thing to a healthful doughnut.
Papa John’s. Yes, Papa John’s. The delivery company is introducing its new caramel-creme doughnut holes, which are free with an order of a pizza. I’m sure there’s a “pie hole” joke in here somewhere. But if you miss your chance Friday, you can still get free doughnut holes, starting Saturday, if you order two pizzas through the Papa John’s app and use the promo code, “DONUT.” That’s, ahem, a lot of holes to jump through. Customers who order the doughnut holes from June 2 to 30, whether online or through the app, can opt in to win a paid trip to New Zealand’s Donut Island, which is, yep, shaped like a doughnut.
The most cynical promotion has to be the one from Burger King, which is offering a Whopper “doughnut” at select restaurants in Miami, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. The meat doughnut comes with its own slider.
But if you really want to get into the spirit of National Doughnut Day, you might want to seek out a Do Good Donut Party. The Salvation Army and Entenmann’s are teaming up to host more than 40 of these parties, in which they will deliver doughnuts to more than 8,500 veterans all across America.
Now that sounds like a plan without a hole in it.