The Working Waterfront

Indulging in doughnuts

‘Folkloric’ memories of the best-made

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2024-05-13
Last Modified 2024-05-13

The March 23 storm caused icing and power outages along the Maine coast and dumped two feet of snow in the western part of the state. In the Cranberry Isles we got about five inches of snow before the rain took it all away again.

By Sunday the trees were covered with a glaze no thicker than you’d find on a doughnut. It was melted before noon.

We never lost our power, but ferry boats were canceled for three days in a row due to gale warnings. This meant some people got stuck off the island for longer than planned and others were stuck on the island unable to fulfill their weekend commitments. Overall, we were lucky.

Some doughnuts he sugared and others he spread with a maple glaze topped with crumbled bacon.

A Monday call from the dentist’s office had Bruce discussing the storm with Ryan, one of the office managers. She was still without power. Bruce relayed that our son and his family in Cape Elizabeth were still without power as well.

“Cape Elizabeth?” She responded. “Do you ever go to the Cookie Jar when you’re there?” He told her that yes, it was a must stop for doughnuts every time we visit the kids. Then Bruce asked if Ryan remembered Larry’s Pastry, in Ellsworth. Bruce still claims they made the best glazed doughnuts he’s ever had. She knew what he was talking about.

My own introduction to Larry’s Pastry came about a month after I moved to Islesford in 1976. Bruce was my new boss and my new beau. I had a day off from fishing so I went off the island to go grocery shopping in Ellsworth. I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts, which was then at the corner of High Street and Main, and brought a box back to Bruce and his brother Mark, hoping to score some big girlfriend points.

Bruce was appreciative but he also made the comment, “I can’t believe you went to Dunkin’ when ‘Heaven’ was right up the street!” What? He meant Larry’s Pastry and when I stopped there the next time I had to agree.

Anyone who spent time on Islesford when Hildegarde and Emerson Ham (Bruce’s great aunt and uncle) ran the store knows what a really good doughnut tastes like. Those doughnuts, made with buttermilk and fried in lard, were amazing.

Many times in our childhood my brother and I would walk to the store, on our own, to pick up fresh doughnuts for breakfast. In the early hours of the morning Hildegarde and Emerson would fry up to 120 dozen to be shipped off the island on the 8:30 boat to a number of stores on Mount Desert Island.

My sister-in-law, Karen, remembers the huge barrel of molasses in the basement of the store and the five-gallon container of buttermilk. When she was 11, her first job was helping to measure the dry ingredients for the doughnuts. Hildegarde had her get a social security card.

Though others made doughnuts after Hildegarde and Emerson stopped, the Ham’s doughnuts remain folkloric to me. I’m sorry for the generations who missed out on them. Their summer doughnut memories will likely come from the The Colonel’s, in Northeast Harbor, where they do a good job, too.

During the first COVID summer a bunch of us on Islesford held a little outdoor market one day a week. Neighbors set up tables and sold baked goods, jelly, vegetables, flowers, masks, and oysters. Bruce tried his hand at making doughnuts, using a recipe from a cooking magazine.

Some doughnuts he sugared and others he spread with a maple glaze topped with crumbled bacon. They were delicious and popular. He never made a huge batch, so they ended up selling fast. On Thursdays, people actually started to line up for them in our driveway! His favorite memory of that time was having three pre-teen girls come up to the table and ask him, “Are you the doughnut man?” He even sold one to the governor when she was visiting the island.

We only had the market for two summers and then life started trending toward normal and folks got back to their pre-COVID ways. Bruce made the doughnuts once last year, on Father’s Day, and passed them out to a bunch of his friends. I’m pretty sure he will make them again when the grandkids come to visit.

I smile when I think that Hildegarde and Emerson’s great nephew has helped to create some memories that only an island-made doughnut provides.

Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be contacted at