I didn’t know my great-grandma, Grandma George, who was called after her husband’s first name. That’s how the married women used to be referred to in south Louisiana, by their husband’s first names. My daddy’s mama was “Madame Bill” and my mama “Madame Bill, Jr.” or “Madame T-Bill” as the cow-hands at Outside Island used to call her. Grandma George was of short stature, a mother of 12 and a very meticulous cook. She died when I was a baby so I only know her from pictures and what’s been told to me by those who knew and loved her. However, I have sampled her French donuts called croquesignoles (pronounced “cro cee all”) made from her recipe on more than one occasion. Her version of the fried pastry did not contain yeast like Louisiana’s popular beignet (pronounced “ben-YAY”) so I am guessing that is why they were called donuts.
We lived in the country on a dead-end gravel road, not far from Grandpa and Grandma George’s home place. One of their 12 children, Uncle Red, his wife, Aunt Lou and their 5 children were our next down the road neighbors. Those 5 cousins were as close to us as siblings raised under the same roof. It wasn’t unusual for us to spend our days helping Daddy work cows, riding bikes up and down that dusty road, fishing, playing in the yard until dark, or even getting to enjoy an occasional swim in the canal. Sharing meals together as well as spending the night at each others houses were also common. We even rode the same school bus. When we were home we played hard until dark and Daddy would announce, “Snake-time, time to come inside!”
One fond memory I have is when our mamas would get together and make those donuts. I recently started asking around for the recipe and finally Aunt Lou’s daughter, Liz, sent me this:
Hmm, flour for hard dough? Well, this makes a mess of donuts and that’s just how I remember seeing them. A whole lot of fried rectangles (with 2 slits in them) doused with powdered sugar and piled into a multitude of tupperware containers covering the kitchen table. While Mama rolled and cut the dough and Aunt Lou fried, turned and drained the doughnuts, we cousins ran in and out of the house, circling the table, grabbing and gobbling them down.
Since the recipe had no instructions my experimenting began and it was not pretty. I’m already a messy cook, but with the flour flying while the dough was making and being dropped into spattering hot oil, a lot of extra clean-up was needful. I had trouble keeping the oil at an even temperature, too. The first batch did not taste
good right so I threw it out. It was much to my husband’s amazement that I could spend so much time on something and so easily end it, kill it! It was also much to his disappointment there were no donuts to eat.
So after I cooled off a bit I adjusted the recipe and decided to try again. It was better, but still messy and not quite, and if it’s not quite it’s not right! I ended up calling Aunt Lou and after going through the steps and a few questions she simply stated, “Well, you just don’t have ‘da touch’. Ma Ma Greene had ‘da touch’!” I quickly agreed and wondered how I could possess such a thing and she replied, “I guess she gave it to me!” We laughed and I decided they each had large families and “da touch” had to have come from lots of practice.
So I practiced and practiced, but only after I went to the store and purchased a simple electric fryer with a temperature setting on it. The whole process was much easier and not so messy. (I wonder how they ever got along with frying those donuts in a big pot of hog lard over a hot stove, GOOD LORD!) Finally, I developed my own recipe with reduced ingredients. I don’t have to feed as many people as they did. Here’s my version of Grandma George Greene’s original donut recipe:
Grandma George’s Donuts
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
Blend sugar, eggs and butter together in a large bowl. In a separate medium-size bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Measure milk in a measuring cup and add vanilla. Alternately mix the flour mixture and milk mixture to egg mixture until well blended.
Then cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
When ready to fry heat oil in pot or fryer to 375 degrees.
Take donut mixture out of refrigerator and knead about 1/2 of dough into flour about 12 times then roll out onto counter being sure counter and roller have plenty of flour on them or dough will stick and not lift off of counter easily after being cut. Be generous with flour. Roll dough into a rectangle shape about 1/4″ thick. Cut dough with a pizza cutter about 2″x 3″, then cut 2 slits with a butter knife into them and drop 3 or 4 donuts (depending on how large your pot or fryer is) into hot oil using a long handled slotted spoon.
After about 1 minute and 20 seconds turn donuts over and cook for another minute and 20 seconds.
Each stove, pot, and fryer is different so you may have to make your own adjustment of oil temperature and time of frying. Remove donuts and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy, but don’t burn your mouth on that hot donut!
Many empty calories here, but it’s fun learning and sharing how the Cajun people fed their families back then by taking these simple ingredients they had, combining them and thrilling their loved ones with these special treats. No Kryspy Kreme down the road for them. I enjoyed these as a child and I also enjoyed learning how to make them and getting a taste of my Grandma George’s donuts again.
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” Winston Churchill