July 28, 2009

Old Fashioned Blueberry-Cornmeal Muffins

The muffin has undergone a drastic transformation ever since it gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. I speculate that there a several events during this time period that contributed to the rise of American muffin:

  • The decline of home-baking: the muffin became a convenient, gourmet food that could be purchased at specialty shops
  • The rise of gourmet coffee shops: the muffin became a standard accompaniment to coffee
  • The health food movement: the muffin’s versatility made it an easy means to incorporate various health ingredients (grains, nuts, seeds)

Since then, the food industry avariciously responded to the rising market for gourmet baked goods. Companies began to add various preservatives to packaged muffins and mixes so that they would have a much longer shelf life. With preservatives came added fats and sugars, as well as much larger portion sizes. Food companies met the demands of consumers with unparalleled success.

According to the American Century Cookbook: the Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century, women made muffins well before the 20th century and included different flours (graham, cornmeal, rye) and often a handful of chopped fruits (dates, raisins, blueberries, apple). These muffins were the product of the early home-baker’s imagination and the nutritious ingredients make them exemplary recipes.

In the late 20th century, several states adopted official muffins, perhaps hoping to preserve the respective region’s distinct food history. Minnesota has claimed the blueberry muffin, Massachusetts the corn muffin and New York the apple muffin.

Blueberries are in peak season during the summer months and are a classic American addition to baked sweets and breads. They are deliciously sweet and tangy and are bursting with powerful antioxidants. Blueberries are an all-American fruit; they are native to the woods and mountainous regions of North America. Historically, blueberries played an important role in Native American foods but were not cultivated until the early 20th century.

This recipe is my adaptation of a muffin that is nutritiously superior to its modern muffin counterparts. That is, it is closer to the early home cook’s fabulous muffin concoctions that have nearly faded in history.

Old Fashioned Blueberry-Cornmeal Muffins

1 3/4 cup white whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat pastry flour, all-purpose unbleached flour, or a combination
1/2 cup fine cornmeal

1/2 cup natural cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large organic egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Turbinado or other sugar for sprinkling on tops

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a standard muffin tin with cooking spray or line with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, canola oil, egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. Gently fold blueberries into the batter.
  4. Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling each about 3/4 full. Baking 12 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sugar if desired. Continue baking 6-8 minutes longer, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool before turning out of muffin tins.

Variations: dry mixing in 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed lavender and/or 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

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