Winter Harbor Doughnuts Stir Memories and Cooking Flurry

Anyone who ever spent more than 15 minutes in Winter Harbor between about 1980 and the fall of 1994 probably had a doughnut, and much more, at the Donut Hole, a shingled structure that hung over Henry’s Cove in the center of town.

Owner Grace Gerrish still lives in town and said her late husband, Joseph, and other employees made doughnuts at the iconic breakfast and lunch spot.

The Gerrishes took over the Donut Hole from a minister and his father — but Grace said the prior owners made only yeast-type doughnuts, not the version with lard that is a New England tradition and for which there is a longtime national craving.

The Ellsworth American recently found that despite the doughnut’s status, a good cake-like doughnut recipe using lard is hard to find.

On a first phone call, Grace Gerrish said she had no idea what the recipe contained. She called a few days later with something that included sugar, flour and “a yellow thing of lard.”

In the meantime the EA spotted a small item in the Brooksville Breeze about Berwyn Peasley and his homemade doughnuts. 

His wife, Audrey, laughed too, but grew serious when asked for a recipe.

“Oh no, I can’t, it’s an old family recipe,” she said.

Grace Gerrish called several weeks later with a more detailed recipe after consulting with some of her former doughnut makers who still live in the area.

The EA’s Catherine McKinney, the newspaper’s graphic designer and a former personal chef, took the recipe home and made doughnuts one recent weekend.

She came to work the following Monday with a pyramid of homemade doughnuts and holes, which, given the newsroom’s appetite, disappeared quickly. Below is Gerrish’s recipe, and Catherine’s attempt at deciphering “a yellow thing of lard.”

(Homemade doughnuts are also available daily at Pectic Seafood in Trenton, which is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter, and until 8 p.m. when the weather gets warmer.)

Grace Gerrish’s Plain Doughnuts

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar, slightly heaping
  • Yellow thing of melted lard (suspect it must have been some sort of measuring cup, holds about 6 tablespoons of lard) from the fryolater
  • 2 cups buttermilk, more or else
  • 4 tsps. baking soda (put into the buttermilk and then add)
  • 2 tsps. salt
  • 2 tsps. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ginger
  • vanilla
  • flour (they would dip the flour sifter into the bucket of flour)

For chocolate doughnuts, omit the nutmeg and add a cup of cocoa.

Plain Doughnuts

Makes 3 dozen

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 Tbsps. lard, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsps. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ginger
  • Canola oil (32 oz.)
  • Lard (10 oz.)

Beat the eggs. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla. Add the melted and cooled lard.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and ginger.

Alternately add the flour and buttermilk to the egg mixture. This makes a soft but malleable dough.

Wrap up and put the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Roll the dough out on a heavily floured board, ½ inch thick.

Cut the doughnuts using a doughnut cutter, or a glass dipped into flour. Cut the centers out with an even smaller glass (I used a 3½-inch water glass and a small sake cup.)

After the doughnuts have been cut, let them sit for 20 minutes. Don’t dust off the excess flour. This helps with the final crust. These raw doughnuts, and holes, will look flat.

In a deep pan, heat 2 inches of oil and lard (a 3-to-1 ratio) to 375 degrees F.

Slowly place the doughnuts into the hot oil. Cook about 2 minutes per side. Don’t crowd the pan. The doughnuts will puff up, crust out and look like doughnuts.

Carefully remove the doughnuts from the oil. Place onto several layers of paper towel. As they cool, dab with more paper towels.

If you want, sprinkle some confectioner sugar over the pile of doughnuts.

*For the chocolate doughnuts, add 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. Omit the nutmeg and ginger.

*After cooking a couple of batches for testing, it was discovered that butter could replace the lard in the doughnuts themselves, but a neutral flavor oil such as canola, combined with lard, works best for the crust.

For complete story, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]