After a dentist appointment recently, my newly minted chompers had a hankering to get fudged up. Goodbye fluoride, hello crullers, fritters, and doughnut holes. Perhaps it had to do with being up early and wanting to surprise my parents with something sweet, but family history hints at a more Pavlovian source. It was the Doughnut Run.
In my family of 15 aunts and uncles and more than 20 cousins, there is no shortage of sweet teeth. We have an intrinsic need to forage for doughnuts. Even when my eyes are barely open, my stomach still full from last night’s dinner, my first thought is always: Doughnuts.
Especially in a new place. On family vacations — from Maine to Martha’s Vineyard — my cousins and I would wake up and overhear our parents’ animated whispers as they hovered over a cardboard box filled with local delicacies. Usually, two of the grownups would procure the doughnuts before dawn. If we were lucky, they’d save us some good ones: honey dipped, double chocolate, jelly-filled and chocolate-frosted.
Our 23andMe DNA results may not report a strong inclination for doughnuts, but in my scientific opinion, it’s real, and it’s specific. Over a blueberry-filled recently, my mother told me that her father used to take her and her seven siblings to three different doughnut shops on Sundays after Mass. One shop couldn’t meet their needs.
A few years ago, living in New York City, I couldn’t find a decent apple cider doughnut anywhere. When I saw that my cousin, on a long weekend that autumn, was posting images of apple cider doughnuts from tiny Sweden, Maine, on her Instagram, I immediately Venmo’d her money, begging her to bring the jewels back to the city. And she did. These highly prized cultural icons were driven down from Maine to Massachusetts, sat aboard the BOS-NYC Chinatown bus to reach her apartment, and traversed across Midtown to meet my boyfriend, who then accompanied the cinnamon-sugary, yeasty halos to me in Queens. A two-day-long doughnut run.
Since the pandemic started, doughnuts have taken on new meaning for my family. Birthdays have become drive-by parades or socially distanced dropoffs. We leave blueberry jellies with one aunt in Beverly and Boston creams with an uncle in Danvers, all trying to give our best finds to one another.
As a family we’ve likely already completed the journey of 1,000 doughnuts — 1,000 doughnut runs, that is. We’ve unapologetically hit up most of the North Shore’s doughnut spots and cleared out the best batches. We can’t help it. We are a decentralized army of Italians opting for doughnuts in the mornings and cannoli and biscotti in the evenings.
We salute the doughnut makers, those who create just the right amount of rise and frosting. At the legendary Henry’s Market in Beverly, celebrating its 80th year, a man named Everett gets up at 3 a.m. to oversee production of enough doughnuts to satisfy my brethren seven days a week. But better get there early — by 10 a.m. they’re usually gone.
In Conway, New Hampshire, Leavitt’s Country Bakery sits on the side of the road, unassuming until you enter. Opened over 40 years ago by the Leavitt family, the doughnut and pie counter extends the length of the store, leaving little room to do anything but agonize over the decision in front of you. While in Maine last year I drove across state lines to get Leavitt’s cake-like doughnuts before my first morning’s conference call. A doughnut run under a time crunch adds a level of intrigue and competition — Will you get there before the good ones are gone?
I do have one cousin who doesn’t like doughnuts. We haven’t disowned her, though. Because most times, it’s more about the anticipation of an experience together than the doughnuts themselves. And while we may debate where the best doughnuts are, there’s no denying: Our family tree is doughnut-shaped.
Andrea Capodilupo is a writer in Beverly. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.