One of the best parts of going apple picking is having a fresh cider doughnut at the end of the day. Luckily, we have a few orchards within an hour’s drive from the farm, meaning that we have a lot of chances to get an apple cider doughnut beyond our annual apple-picking pilgrimage.
Our last trip home from apple picking got us thinking, how did farmers start selling apple cider doughnuts? Who knew that fresh doughnuts and hot cider were such a perfect pair?
It all comes down to a man named Adolph Levitt and his magic machine. But first, a quick primer on why cider and doughnuts are even around in the first place.
Cider, especially the alcoholic kind, has been around for a long time. In colonial days, most people drank hard cider instead of water because you could guarantee that the cider was safe to drink. A common misconception of cider is that it was created with old apples from the end of harvest when really cider was created as a way to use apples that were not truly edible.
Crabapples, which are the only apple variety that is native to the United States, are basically inedible. They are tough, tart and tiny. But for what they lack in eat-ability, they make up for in drinkability. When crabapples are pressed, you’re able to extract the tannin-filled juices and create some pretty complex libations. Other apple varieties traditionally grown in orchards around America are good for adding different colors and tasting notes to cider, but you don’t need as many of these “good” apples to make really good cider.
Pair this with the growing mentality most consumers had for the majority of the 20th century— produce needed to look pretty for us to buy it (a topic we explore a bit more here). What you get is something that ends up making farmers more money: farmers grow a variety of apples, crabapples become the base for cider and any ‘ugly’ apples can be used to give the cider color and additional flavors. This leads to farmers wasting less of their harvest while giving them another product to sell at their farm stands.
This is where Adolph Levitt comes in. He was the inventor of the original doughnut-making machine. These machines were able to cut out perfectly-sized doughnuts, plop them into oil to fry and then flip the doughnuts out and into your topping of choice. When Levitt first brought these machines to the marketplace, people went nuts over them. Not only did it make life easier for bakery owners, but it was also mesmerizing to watch.
With the rise of car culture, more and more farm stands and markets were looking for ways to get drivers to pull over and shop. Levitt saw his doughnut machine as the perfect solution, and for many farmers, it was. Levitt began selling his doughnut machines to farm stands and orchards up and down the east coast.
We don’t know who came up with the first apple cider doughnut recipes, but we do know where American doughnut recipes came from. Danish immigrants brought their version of doughnuts, olykoeks (which translates to “oily cakes”) and the French brought their version named pets-de-nonne (which translates to “nun’s farts.” Yes, really.) All we know is that doughnut machines were usually sold with a plain, industrial mix and farmers were eager to tweak the recipes.
Soon farmers were opening up their orchards to the growing amount of weekend drivers. Drivers would be lured in with the doughnut machines making apple cider doughnuts fresh to order. A cup of apple cider (hot or cold) and fresh hot doughnut could lead to more purchases, like pies, ice cream and jellies. Or it could lead them to stay at the farm for the day, picking their own apples. Even if apple crops had a poor year, farmers could still have money coming in from their apple-related products and the rise of agritourism.
At the end of the day, we know why cider and doughnuts a good pair. Sweet, tart cider balances the oiliness of a cake doughnut. But what makes them a great pair is how these treats help orchards stay in business, providing us with food and fun for years to come.