Mainers love donuts at any time of the year. In fact, the “doughnut” — in its current form — is said to have been invented here: by one Hanson Gregory, a ship captain from Rockport, in 1847. (He surely called them by their longer name; for the shortened, and now grammatically acceptable “donut,” we have Dunkin’ to thank.)
But perhaps because they are often made and sold at apple orchards, where they are served with freshly pressed cider, donuts seem to have a particular association with fall and Halloween. To find out more, we have to go much further back than Capt. Gregory.
In a practice dating to the Middle Ages, English children would go “souling” on All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints Day. In exchange for prayers for the dead, they were given a soul cake, a round, sweet bun. Legend has it that sometime in the mid-19th century, a cook who suspected that children who came to her master’s door were taking the cakes but not doing much praying, made holes in the center of her soul cakes, the circle being a strong symbol of everlasting life. Those early “donuts” were created as reminders of prayer.
Those sweet buns with a hole in the middle (and maybe some raisins) are now wildly popular circles of fried dough made in nearly every imaginable flavor, Apple cider, pumpkin, molasses and maple glazed are just some of the fall varieties found at local donut shops. Prayer is strictly optional.
Pamela and James Plunkett, who opened this South Portland bakery just last year, are known for their creative pastries, including sweet and savory handpies and their own version of New York City’s famous (and trademarked) Cronut. Clockwise from top left: Caramel apple donuts with a soft caramel filling, fresh apples and a crunchy caramel glaze; Halloween-themed donuts; apple cider cake donuts with bits of dried apple and a cider glaze. 340 Main St., South Portland | 747-4233 | facebook.com/littlebigs
This 60-year-old Cape Elizabeth institution turns out wedding cakes, breads and a full range of classic pastries. Fans rave about their generously sized, full-flavored donuts, including, clockwise from top: Apple Cider, Molasses, Pumpkin, Maple Cream. 554 Shore Rd., Cape Elizabeth | cookiejarbakers.com
Whether you frequent the original location — where first, Antonio Fournier and now his son Rick have been turning out pastries since 1965 — or the recently opened South Portland shop — you’ll find traditional New England cake donuts. Back: Molasses; front: Apple Cider. 9 Boulton St., Portland; 1059 Broadway, South Portland | 772-2727 | facebook.com/tonysdonutshop
Maine’s smallest and most unusual donuts come from a mobile bakery that spends summers in Portland and winters at Sugarloaf. This “Sugar Rush” box (15 doughnuts) features, from left: Pumpkinhead (pumpkin cheesecake), Southern Sugar (maple bourbon pecan) and Belly Up (bourbon-glazed pork belly and sweet potato puree). Note: owners Kevin and Valeri Sandes change their offerings regularly, but you’ll find some version of these seasonal treats on the menu. Find the truck parked at Tranten’s Grocery in downtown Kingfield daily except Wednesdays until mid-December, when it will head up the mountain for ski season. 363 Main St., Kingfield | 317-6616 | urbansugarcafe.com
Leigh Kellis’ Maine potato donuts have been touted in the media and have even been served on Capitol Hill. Flavors like dark chocolate sea salt and Allen’s Coffee Brandy get well-deserved attention, but right now, we’re craving the Maine Apple, left, with chunks of apple and a cider glaze; and the Maple Glazed. 194 Park Ave., and 7 Exchange St., Portland | 874-7774 | theholydonut.com