Benham-Bishop Donuts

In the quiet New England night, snow gently falls.  1920s jazz plays in our warm kitchen.  A family tradition continues.  

There seems to be something about donuts and New England.  In Boston, in the late 1940s, two brothers-in-law, Harry Winouker and Bill Rosenberg, had a Donut-making partnership, then a falling out, and each went their separate ways: Harry to found Mister Donut and Bill to launch Dunkin Donuts.

Robert McCloskey, the Maine-based Caldecott Medal winning author of childrens’ books, wrote the famous stories of Homer Price and the unstoppable donut making machine.

I have known of families here who pass down between generations the grease used to fry the family donuts.  It is the recipe, in our family, passed down, and even, as the story is told, the recipe once was sent by Western Union telegram.  The tradition, you see, must be continued.

On a snowy night, while 1920s jazz played, I learned to make donuts on Forbes Avenue in Northhampton, Massachusetts.  Helen Benham Bishop, my teacher, danced and swayed while adding a dash of nutmeg, 1 scant teaspoon of salt, some sugar, egg and shortening, and enough flour until the spoon stood straight.  By feel she followed the recipe. And then let the dough rest, in a warm place, until the morning.

As a child, Helen spent summers on the Beach at Hawk’s Nest, Connecticut.  She and her brother listened to jazz on a hand-crank Victrola carried out on the sand.  In those days, her great aunts Emma, Irene and Estella would knead the dough and then let it rest, until the morning when the children would gather round, ready to fry and then feast upon fresh donuts, with a dash of nutmeg, rolled in powdered sugar.

I inherited that tradition.  I pass it along to my nieces and children.  My oath, that night – nine years ago on Forbes Avenue – was that I would safeguard the tradition.


My nieces are visiting for the holidays, and so it is time again.  Tonight, in our warm snug home, the dough rests.  Tomorrow morning we will gather and laugh, again shall carry on tradition.


2 Comments on “Benham-Bishop Donuts”

  1. bam says:

    sweet, and beautiful. delicious as always. through and through. xoxox

  2. Glenn Palmieri says:

    I can smell the donuts from here!

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