The Mystery Treat
Hilary Herrick Woodward
A long time ago, admittedly half a century, I was a little girl growing up in Southampton Village. There were many family run stores on Main Street. Among them were Hildreth’s Department Store, Glassses Shoes, Corwin’s Jewelry, Schulman’s and Gould’s 5 & 10 cent stores, Corwith’s Pharmacy and Landon’s Stationary. Our family business, Herrick Hardware, was there too. The most magical shop for me, however, was on Hampton Road. It was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Crutchley. There was no other place like it nor has there been ever since. For decades they made and sold crullers and cruller hearts, just perfect and loved by all.
Crutchley’s was unpretentious. Through the large windows from the sidewalk I could see the unadorned counters, painted white on the facade with softly worn, natural wood surfaces. No fancy displays or overflowing inventory were necessary. Simply the delicious fried crullers and their hearts attracted the many customers who frequented the store regularly. Once inside, the fresh goodies, begged to be bought.
The kitchen was in the back visible through a doorway next to the broad staircase leading up to their apartment. While standing at the counter, my mother and I observed the Crutchleys, white aproned, working the dough and bending over the frying vat. Both were often covered in flour. Noticing us, they would stand up, pat their flour coated hands on their aprons and emerge from the back to take the orders.
“One dozen crullers, please” my mother would request. Hearing that, Mr. Crutchley neatly packed the order into a white baker’s box. Then, he reached up and pulled a string from the large spool above the counter and deftly tied up the parcel. Mrs. Crutchley, her white hair coiled in a neat bun, rung the total on a classic old cash register. The crullers and hearts were plain, no drippings, icings or sprinkles. If desired a small bag of confectioners sugar was added with which to coat them. The taste was like heaven’s version of what heaven could be.
The aroma from Crutchleys wafted through that area of the community to which the wind blew on any given day. If it was from the north, the Presbyterian Church and Historical Museum would be treated. West and the Elementary School flung open the windows. It drew people to the store with a magnetic aura no will power could resist. On Sundays, they were closed and we villagers attended church without temptation.
My family only bought them for special events like a holiday party, but I was sure that most of my friends had crullers daily and with every meal. That could have been true, that is, until they closed shop in the early 1980’s and Mr. and Mrs. Crutchley retired to Sag Harbor. Those were sad times. It had been a storybook store. The Crutchleys and their crullers lay in the hearts of the villagers and devotees from far and wide. Ask anyone who lived there in those days.
The magic was gone. Legend had it that the recipe was locked in a vault and highly guarded.
Fast forward to spring 2007. One warm Sunday that April, my husband Eric and I took a bicycle outing to Flying Point beach. After checking the waves, we returned through the village to stop at Tate’s Bakeshop for my daily hazelnut decaf.
Upon arriving home, we approached the front door to find an unmarked brown paper lunch bag on the step. Coming from a long line of alarmists, my mind raced to the unabomber and the packages he left for unfortunate victims. My husband simply picked it up, unfolded the top and looked inside it. Before I had a chance to holler to “leave it alone!” he pulled out a circular morsel we instantly recognized.
The delectable tidbit Eric cradled in his hand was a precious product from that unforgettable bakery, Crutchley’s. It appeared to be an exact replica of the famed cruller heart. There was more than one, a neat dozen, in fact. I held the bag up to my nose and inhaled the long ago memory of entering their shop. In our hands was a full bag of history, yet it was edible, quite fresh and clearly not a museum artifact!