Born out of a generational family tradition, one San Clemente woman has found a way to thank local first responders while keeping a heritage alive.
Cindy Henry, 75, grew up in Crete, Nebraska and bounced around the United States before landing in town in December 2005. Having fallen in love with San Clemente and wanting to further engage with the community, Henry decided to share her family’s raised donuts with firefighters in town.
“It’s got to be over five (years), less than 10, (since) we thought, ‘Well, let’s take donuts—we can make plenty of them—to the firemen,” she said.
Henry had previously made donuts for neighbors and friends, but she and her husband, Paul, wanted to gift first responders during the holiday season as a token of gratitude for their efforts to keep San Clemente residents safe.
The tradition began in the early 20th century with Henry’s paternal grandmother, Louise Nosky, in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Although it stopped for over a decade after Nosky died when Henry was young, Henry’s mother, Elsie, brought it back and passed it down to Henry.
Louise Nosky’s legacy continues today in the form of an index card-sized recipe that Elsie used to make the donuts and teach Henry.
“I do a double batch, which is eight dozen donuts,” said Henry. “I start the night before, getting everything all set up. I get up at 5:30 in the morning, because it takes that long to make these raised donuts.”
The lengthy, old-fashioned process includes mixing half of a mashed potato into the dough, three hours of letting the dough rise and punching it down and frying the donuts inside Henry’s mother’s pressure cooker pot.
Her grandmother’s only hard-and-fast rule is to always use Crisco shortening, Henry said.
The donuts are well-known and well-loved to the point where neighbors also ask her to make them at other times of the year, such as Fourth of July. Some became disappointed upon learning they’d miss the Henrys’ Dec. 30 “open house,” where friends are invited to stop by and partake.
Henry’s favorite memory revolving around delivering donuts to San Clemente fire stations occurred during one of the early years of her new tradition.
She was driving to the station on Camino de los Mares when she passed a fire truck coming from the station headed in the opposite direction. After arriving to confirm the firefighters weren’t present, Henry drove to the Avenida La Pata station and shared the first box of the day.
By the time she got back to the Camino de los Mares station, word had spread.
“(The firefighters) were back at the station then,” Henry said with a laugh. “They had already heard about the donuts. The one fire station told the other fire station, ‘Hey, there’s a lady bringing donuts.’ ”
She also enjoys the moments in which only one firefighter comes to answer the door and facetiously asks if they are required to share the hot pastries with their colleagues.
Although Henry said she has never seen the same person twice when delivering donuts, the firefighters are always grateful and have a smile on their faces.
“I’ve often wondered, in this day and age, can (first responders) accept food from a stranger?” she asked. “With all the crazy stuff that goes on nowadays, you just hope the firemen know that it’s coming from honest people to share around the holidays.”
Henry added that this year, she will deliver donuts to San Clemente firefighters on Friday, Dec. 30.