Thursday, August 26, 2010

No Ideas But In Doughy Things: The Poetry of Doughnuts

Poetry & Popular Culture recently had a chance to catch up with Ross Brody (pictured here), a native Oregonian and professor of Physics at Willamette University. Like many Oregonians, Brody (a.k.a. The Biking Viking) has many hobbies including cyclocross racing, rock climbing and—most germane to this posting, perhaps—baking. Indeed, the P&PC Office has on more than one occasion been the welcome beneficiary of the frequent experiments (including cantaloupe-coconut pastries and ciabatta bread) that go on at what is unofficially known as Brody's Bakery on the south side of Salem.

A few weeks ago, Brody went searching for an old-school doughnut recipe and came upon one composed in verse. He immediately thought that P&PC readers would like to give it a shot in their own kitchens. The "Doughnut Rhyme" is taken most recently from A Taste of Oregon cookbook but originally comes from Lucretia Allyn Gurney who moved to Oregon in 1851 and settled near current-day Lake Oswego. She passed the poem on to her children and grandchildren, who passed it on to the Josephine County Historical Society, who passed it on to A Taste of Oregon, who passed it on to Brody, who passed it on to P&PC, who is now passing it on to you:

The Doughnut Rhyme

1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of milk,
2 eggs beaten fine as silk;
Salt and nutmeg, lemon will do,
Baking powder teaspoons two;
Lightly stir the flour in,
Roll on pie-board, not too thin.
Drop with care the doughy things
Into the fat that briskly swells
Evenly the spongy cells.
Watch with care the time for turning,
Fry them brown just short of burning.
Roll in sugar, serve them cool.
Price a quarter for this rule.

The "Doughnut Rhyme" isn't the only recipe to have been written in verse; some time ago, P&PC brought you a recipe for "The Original Fish Chowder" dating back to 1751 Boston and recently reprinted in Martha Stewart Living. However, what intrigues us most about the "Doughnut Rhyme" is line 7, which is (unless you want to argue that "things" is a slant rhyme with "thin" and "in") the only non-rhyming line in a poem of otherwise perfectly rhyming couplets. But why should line 7 rhyme? After all, "Drop with care the doughy things" is located at the exact middle of the poem and thus forms a sort of sonic hole in the center of an otherwise symmetrically constructed verse form—a hole that totally befits a poem about doughnuts!

But there's another hole in the recipe as well, for while the "Doughnut Rhyme" tells you how much sugar, milk, eggs and baking powder you're going to need, it leaves out measurements for another main ingredient—flour. For those of you trying this recipe at home, Brody recommends going with about 3 or so cups of flour. "I had a tad too much," he remarks, "and they got a bit chewy once cooled." The interns at the P&PC Office aren't saying they don't believe you, Ross, but you'd better bring a batch around the next time so we can try 'em ourselves.