Grandma Mary’s Doughnut Balls


When I met my future mother-in-law in 1951, she introduced me to her very popular Doughnut Balls.  She told me that when her four kids were little, she would get up early in the morning and make these treats before her husband went off to work so he could have some fresh and warm for breakfast and the kids could eat some later when they woke up.  Actually, the recipe is easy and quick enough to do just that.  I never made them for her son for breakfast because he preferred bacon and eggs, but I did make them many times for my own four children and my mother loved them for lunch with a cup of hot coffee.

Here’s a 1950s picture of my mother-in-law, later known as Grandma Mary, at her familiar place in the kitchen, getting a meal ready for her family.

Grandma Mary 58

For our first Halloween together as a married couple in 1953 before there were any children, I decided to make special treats for the “beggars” as we called them in those days.  When I was a child out begging one Halloween, word had come along the street that someone was handing out hot doughnuts.  We raced up to the house only to find they had run out, but I always thought that sounded like an ideal Halloween treat.  So, using a wedding gift electric deep fryer, I set up an operation near the door, mixing up batches of Grandma Mary’s recipe and offering piping hot, sugary Doughnut Balls to some very surprised trick or treaters.  I had also made a huge batch of hot chocolate and passed out small paper cups of this to wash down the doughnuts.

I was very pleased with my Halloween treat idea but by the next year, I had a six-month-old baby and after that there were more children and less time, so I never duplicated that 1953 Halloween.  However, we still enjoy having these Doughnut Balls for breakfast and I think of Grandma Mary every time I make them.


  • Servings: 2-3 doz. doughnut balls, depending on size
  • Print

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tblsp. melted Crisco shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • Crisco for deep frying
  • 1-2 cups of confectioners’ sugar for coating

In a medium bowl whisk together the sugar, milk, egg and melted shortening.  In a separate small bowl mix together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Combine dry and wet ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are incorporated.

Heat Crisco shortening to 365 degrees F in a large pan with a fryer basket*.  Drop batter by teaspoonful into hot shortening – 4 to 5 doughnuts at a time.  Fry for 3-4 minutes.  Doughnut balls will flip over and become golden brown on both sides.

*If you don’t have a basket, lift and turn doughnuts with a slotted spoon.


Drain doughnuts on a paper towel.


Continue frying remaining doughnuts, placing the drained doughnuts in a brown paper sack along with about a cup of confectioners’ sugar and shaking until doughnuts are coated. 


I’ve never had time to count how many doughnut balls this recipe makes since it requires fast work for a few minutes, frying, draining and coating – and anyone who is in the kitchen grabs a warm doughnut as soon as it’s finished.  These are best when eaten while still warm.



Update: It’s a long time since 1953 and a different world.  I wouldn’t recommend having children eat anything homemade by people they don’t know.  But Doughnut Balls and hot chocolate would be nice for a family Halloween party!

Halloween in the 1940s


Until I was 11 years old, we lived in a third-floor flat in downtown Cincinnati.  Those were the war years when any kind of housing was hard to get and we were lucky to have a large apartment that looked out on the huge Court Street Market.  On market day, tents took up the entire wide street and the sellers hawked their fresh produce in loud voices.  We were within walking distance of every major movie theater in downtown Cincinnati, numerous 5 & 10 cent stores and large department stores.  Those were advantages but the disadvantages were not being able to enjoy small town or suburban activities such as beggar’s night or penny night or the big Halloween celebration itself.  I understand huge crowds gathered on Halloween night on Fountain Square but they were for older people and considered too rowdy by my parents for two little girls.

We dressed up in costume for our Halloween party at school and once I was invited to a friend’s nearby apartment for a party for the girls in our class, but otherwise Halloween passed by pretty much unnoticed.  Occasionally, a scraggly little boy would make his way up three flights of stairs to beg for pennies but begging (or trick or treating as it was later known) was not an activity that we knew anything about.


When we moved to the East End of Cincinnati in 1943, it was like going to a small town where there were a lot of German, Irish, Hungarian and black families, neat small houses with tidy gardens and BEGGAR’S NIGHT.  I wasn’t at all sure about this new event that all the kids in school were looking forward to.  The thought of traipsing up and down the streets, in and out of strangers’ houses, asking for candy just seemed so strange.  But my friends were all going out, my little sister wanted to go and surprisingly my parents agreed, so out we went.  We had orders from our parents to not even look into the saloons along the way, let alone go in one, but otherwise we were free to tramp up and down steps, go into the houses if invited and to come home with a bag stuffed with candy, gum and apples.  Nothing was prepackaged in those days and we were grateful for wrapped candy like peanut butter kisses which didn’t get all gummed up with everything else in the bag.


I remember one year when word was passed from one gang of kids to the other that someone was giving out hot doughnuts.  By the time we made it to the house, they were out of doughnuts but I loved the idea.  In 1953, my first year giving out treats as a married woman, I used my wedding gift deep fryer to make homemade doughnuts and gave them out to amazed visitors.  And I had plenty so I wouldn’t run out before the last beggar.

I never was quite comfortable with the affair, but my sister loved it and I continued to go begging until she was old enough to go alone with her own friends.   Now, I’ve been through the trick or treat years with 4 children and 4 grown grandchildren and this Halloween, I’m looking forward to throwing some candy into the bags of my two youngest grandchildren, aka the Mummy and Glynda, the Good Witch.