recess radio program

05/30/07
National Doughnut Day & Homer Price
    by John Cech

Brief Sound Clip:

That's Homer Price's Aunt Aggie, complaining about newfangled inventions, like the doughnut machine that his Uncle Ulysses is tinkering with in the couple's new little coffee shop on the village square in Centerberg, USA. The scene is from one of Robert McCloskey's valentines to small-town American life, Homer Price, which he wrote in 1943, just before he was to join the army during World War II.

In the character of Homer, a brush-cut boy with a piece of straw in his mouth, McCloskey is alluding comically to the legendary Greek poet whose epics were certainly required reading for any high schooler of McCloskey's generation. But these Homeric epics contain such things as the hilarious string-unraveling competition at the county fair between two bachelors, Homer's other uncle, Telemachus, and the town sheriff, for the right to court the eligible Miss Terwilliger.

But today we are talking about a doughnut machine, because it's Doughnut Day, in honor of the paper doughnuts that were sold to raise money for the real doughnuts that were served during World War I to American soldiers, who were called "doughboys." The doughnut is a descendent of a Dutch pastry called an "olykoek," (or oily cake), which was as large as a walnut and deep fried in oil. It was given its name and brought to our shores in 1620 by the Pilgrims, who had lived in Holland.

It wasn't until 1847 that a Maine sea captain named Hanson Gregory made the astonishing discovery that if you cut out the center of the donut, which always seemed to be, well.... a bit raw, the dough would cook all the way through. Which brings us back to Homer, who agrees to mix up a batch of doughnuts for his uncle, who has disappeared for a hand of Pinochle with his pals. One thing leads to another, and soon there are enough doughnuts in the lunchroom to easily feed the whole Fifth Army .... and, well, I won't dunk the ending for you. Robert McCloskey's Homer Price is still around, at your local library or bookstore. It's worth the trip, and there just might be a doughnut shop along the way.

Copyright 2007 John Cech

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Wednesday, 02-May-2007 19:28:12 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."