The Mystery Treat

Written By: Hilary Woodward

We were not prepared. It came out of the blue: A virtual “who done it.”

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April during the dawning years of this century, maybe 2006. My husband, Eric and I took a bicycle ride around Southampton Village. We went around Lake Agawam, stopped at the ocean, circled back along Olde Town road, by the hospital and returned via North Main Street. Before the final push for home, we stopped at Tates Bake Shop for my daily coffee take out. We pulled into our driveway around 4:00: snack time.

On our doorstep, right next to the front door, we spotted an unmarked brown bag. Coming from a long line of alarmists, my mind raced to the what possible dangers might be hidden in a brown package at the front door. My husband picked it up. Before I had a chance to order, “leave it alone”, he pulled out a delicious morsel we both immediately recognized.

The golf ball sized pastry Eric held was a Crutchley Cruller heart, a specialty come back to life. We looked at each other and then back at cruller. This heart of doughnut was an exact replica of the famed Crutchley Crullers made in Southampton for decades by no other than Mr. and Mrs. Crutchley. But, they had closed shop thirty years earlier. It was rumored that the secret recipe was locked away in a high security vault because they could trust no one to get it just right. I never imagined I would taste one again, let alone have a bag left on our doorstep.

Mr. and Mrs. Crutchley’s shop was on Hampton Road in Southampton village. Large, clean windows faced the sidewalk. Stepping in, the store was simple. A broad wood staircase on one side of the shop led to their living quarters. The Crutchleys sold only crullers. No shelves full of inventory lined the walls. Two simple counters bordered the space. On them lay the crisp brown paper bags and white boxes of warm crullers neatly lined up front to back. An old cash register took up the end of one counter. A small bag of confectioner’s sugar to roll them in was available on request.

The Cruthleys were old when I was growing up in the 1950’s. Mr. Crutchley could be seen churning the cruller making machines through a large window in door to the back of the store. Mrs. Crutchley kindly dispensed the crullers from behind a counter. She was tall and gracious with grey hair tied back in a neat bun. He was slightly bent and bald. They both seemed other worldly, perhaps from being lightly dusted in white flour.

There is and was no mistaking the Crutchley Cruller for any normal doughnut heart. With or without the sugar, when biting into them there was a slight crunch, followed by soft, rich dough cooked to perfect softness. It was heaven’s version of what heaven should be like.

The smell of crullers wafted throughout the community nearly every day. It drew people to the store. The elementary school was around the corner from the shop. When the windows were open on the west side of the building, it was impossible to think straight. People drove from New York City or sent chauffeurs simply to buy Crutchley crullers.

Church receptions, birthday parties, beach picnics and other celebrations all called for Crutchley’s. Our family only bought them for special events like when relatives came to visit. But, there were rumors that some families had crullers daily and with every meal.

Then, in the “70’s it was over. The Crutchleys retired to Sag Harbor. Those were uncertain times. The Crutchley magic was gone for good. It was alleged their recipe would go with them to their grave.

Thus, explains our astounded reaction to finding this treasure on our doorstep. Where had they come from? Who had blessed Eric and me?

Eric held the morsel. “Wait,” I ordered, still in alarmist mode. “What if they have been tainted? Everyone knows Crutchley Crullers are irresistible” Eric popped it into his mouth. His eyes closed. A dreamy smile followed. Apparently, he had gone to heaven, but not died.

I held my take-out coffee, a perfect accompaniment. I reached in the bag. We started slowly, savoring a bite at a time, but soon they were devoured.

We sat on the front step contemplating the mystery. Who do we thank?

In the weeks following, our magical gift remained unexplained. A month passed. One day, I was in Tate’s for a cup of coffee. The counter person and I exchanged some basic observations about weather and the impending summer crowds. As I turned to leave, she asked, “by the way, did you ever find the brown bag of treats?” It took me seconds to realize she was referring to the crullers at our doorstep.

The truth was that Kathleen, the owner of Tate’s, had left them for us taste test. The Crutchleys quietly trusted the recipe to her before they passed, and she had been testing it in her own home kitchen. When she dropped the bag off, a house painter was finishing work by our front door. Kathleen asked him to let us know she left them, and she wanted our opinion. The painter left before we returned to find the mystery treat.

We were simply thankful he hadn’t gotten curious, opened the bag and eaten them all!