When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to take his shotgun outside the old farmhouse and shoot a hole in the sky to help the arrival of the new year. Here in the mountains, I’ve discovered a new way to poke a hole so the year can come through. My friend Caroline is hosting her annual doughnut party and the holes we will make are sweet. Doughnuts at midnight are a longstanding tradition for her family and it’s one I’m delighted to share with her.
Friends and family start to gather at Caroline’s hilltop house at about 8:00. Everyone arrives with at least two plates of finger food, but there’s not much time to stand around and eat. It’s doughnut cutting time. Caroline and her mother spent the day housecleaning and then mixing and kneading two dishpans full of doughnut dough. The square pans are over by the gas wall heater and the dough inside has already risen above the edges. Caroline lugs the first pan to the kitchen and her son-in-law grabs a softball sized hunk and with firm hands rolls the wooden pin over it until it’s less than a quarter inch thick. Then several women grab doughnut cutters and with deft twists of their wrists create the rings and holes. My mom and Dad have driven up from Richmond to celebrate with us, so she and I take charge of moving the floppy dough rings onto trays to rise. Then we carry the trays of doughnuts out to the other room and set them on every available surface . The other guests, who are laughing and gabbing, jump up to help place them. There are trays on top of the piano, trays on chairs, trays on the steps and even a tray on top of the TV which is on so we can watch the ball drop later. I estimate we’ve cut out over a hundred doughnuts.
By the time we finish cutting out all of the doughnuts, the first ones are ready to fry. Caroline fills a large pot with about six inches of oil and when it’s hot enough, she begins dropping them into the sizzling pot, six doughnuts at a time. They bobble and twirl for three minutes on one side and then Caroline deftly flips them with a slotted spatula. Three more minutes and then, like pleasantly plump ladies emerging from a tanning bed, the winter white doughnuts are tantalizingly brown. The first four dozen are cooled and then shaken in a mixture of plain and powdered sugar. The next forty-eight take a bath in a maple syrup glaze and the last ones get a dusting of cinnamon and sugar. For the next hour, stainless steel bowls as big as washing tubs full of warm doughnuts make the rounds of the teen-aged card players and their aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers who are gathered in the living room. My son, who has a date later, has elected to come to this party with us first and he stays until he’s played enough Rook and eaten his fill of doughnuts. When he leaves, he wraps four more in a napkin and stuffs them in his coat pocket to give to his girlfriend later.
By midnight every guest is stuffed. “Just one more,” we say as the bowl makes another round. After all, this is the last sweet hurrah of two weeks of overeating. Tomorrow, we’ll diet.