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March 25, 2013

Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'

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The Daily Star

---- — In 1969, I was “The Doughnut King” in Sidney.

My father bought a doughnut-making machine, and his market was the first one in the village to make its own doughnuts (of course bakeries and coffee shops had been doing that for years). So it was my duty to make a daily variety of doughnuts in that monstrosity. I had a sign over the machine and I’d write down how many I made each day. Our customers would poke their heads in to see what I was up to. By the time my reign as “The Doughnut King” ended, I had made more than a quarter of a million doughnuts.

All kinds: plain, sugar, cinnamon, glazed, green ones for St. Patrick’s Day, pink ones for Valentine’s Day, etc. It was fun. In 1971, I moved out of Sidney, and I sadly gave up my royal scepter.

What is it about a doughnut?

People just go wild for them, and my customers back at Don’s Super Market were no different. Think Krispy Kreme wild.

During my college years in Albany, I worked at Freihofer’s Bakery. I stood on an assembly line, putting cherries on cupcakes. I watched doughnuts by the tens of thousands being scooped up out of their bubbling vats, placed on drying racks and then shipped out to stores all across the Northeast for sale.

This was a venerable Capital District bakery, started by Charles Freihofer in 1884. He delivered his baked good by horse and carriage. In fact, his doughnuts even today carry an image of that early horse and buggy on each box. They were good, too. Especially the glazed ones. I ate as many free ones as I could stomach when I worked at that bakery back in Albany’s Arbor Hill district.

Another iconic doughnut was the Spaulding kruller. They came in an unmistakable orange- and white-striped boxes. This was “our” doughnut because their bakery was in Binghamton, their distribution center was on Market Street in Oneonta and they could be found in every mom-and-pop store in every community no matter how big or how small.

They mastered the art of making the sugar doughnut. Rather than just being a snowy dust ball that ended up flaking all over your new shirt, the Spaulding sugar kruller had a mysterious paste-like quality to it that allowed the sugar to stay (mostly) on the doughnut and not on your clothes. Spaulding eventually went out of business, being bought up by Stroehmanns and today is owned by (believe it or not) Bimbo Bakeries!

Spaulding krullers still come in the familiar orange-and-white-striped box that carries their company slogan, “famous for flavor.” It may be just me but now that they’re made by Bimbo they don’t taste anything like the ones that came out of the bakery on Exchange Street in Binghamton oh those many years ago.

But there was another doughnut in my youth. Kind of a mysterious one. It came from New York City, brought up to the mountains by my Mom’s sister, Mazie. The downstate cousins would come pouring into the house, and my aunt would gingerly slip a royal blue and white box out of a fancy shopping bag and place it on our snack bar. “Entenmann’s” it said in fancy lettering across the front.

Entenmann’s was our “special doughnut.” Why? I have no idea. But I think for the most part because it came from a place we had never been, New York City. Their doughnuts were cakey, sweet, substantial and iced to perfection. Exalted. Sublime. This was no grab-bag doughnut, either. These were granted to us kids by by permission only.

“Entenmann’s please, Mom!”

I think my mother, who was brought up in Brooklyn, liked them because they were “a taste of the old neighborhood” for her. We liked them because they were more of a special treat for us, since they only arrived once or twice a year.

Now you can get Entenmann’s doughnuts everywhere. Heck, they even have more than 2,000 followers on an Entenmann’s Facebook page! A doughnut with its own Facebook page. Go figure.

But a half-century ago, when Mazie and John O’Neil and their kids arrived from Brooklyn, well, believe me, that was serious doughnut time for the Sidney crowd. And the sweets never fell victim to the de-tasting that Spauldings, their sister doughnut did.

Did I say sister doughnut? Yes. Entenmanns is also now made by Bimbo Bakeries! And they still taste wonderful.

“Entenmann’s please, Mom.”

I’ll catch you in two ...

“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.