Each autumn for many years I have baked muffins for the first day of school. It’s for luck, as Anna would say. Anna is a character in my beloved Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I read this series as a child and have frequently re-read them over the years. I have adopted many of the family traditions in this series. I thought I was the only one who read these books, but through the internet I have connected with others twelve years ago on a list-serve and baking muffins for the first day of school was a tradition many of us followed. For the past dozen years, when August rolls around the ladies on my list report their muffin status one by one.
I no longer had children in school and I had no need to carry it on, but suddenly last year I wanted to. I decided to designate the day after Labor Day as my personal muffin day because that is the day my sisters and I always started school where I grew up. As it happened, I was out of town on that day. So I missed my muffin day. Then two muffinless weeks slipped by and I just gave up and posted to my internet friends that I failed this year on muffins. I thought that would be the end of it, but I’ve felt incomplete, alas even a little bereft.
One of the last posts about muffins last year talked about some gingerbread muffins one of the ladies had made. Hmmm…I had never had a muffin mix for gingerbread muffins. I was actually salivating! Although I haven’t baked anything from scratch in many years, I asked for the recipe. It came in a flash and I avidly read through the list of ingredients. Yes, I had them all. Today was the day. Confidently I printed up the recipe and took it to the kitchen.
I found a bowl and began dumping in the stuff. Oops, I didn’t have unbleached flour, I had bleached…oh well, it went in. I measured carefully the baking soda after a hunt through the cupboards for it and thought, gee, that’s such a little bit. So I added more. Good thing too, as I noted I was using the quarter teaspoon instead of the half. Then I added a bit more for good measure. It seems the baking soda was out of date. I checked my baking powder too and it was also outdated, but fortunately the recipe didn’t call for both. Next, I put in allspice, cinnamon and again raided the cupboard looking everywhere for the ginger. I can’t believe I couldn’t find any ginger. I remember distinctly having ginger. Puzzling over when I last used ginger it dawned on me it was for an elementary school event for my youngest, now twenty three. I looked no further. To compensate for the ginger another quarter teaspoon of allspice went in. I had plenty of allspice, I never really used allspice. For fun I added an extra dash of cinnamon. I really like cinnamon.
The brown sugar wasn’t the dark brown kind it called for, but I was happy to find any brown sugar that was not rock hard. I cheerfully patted down two cups and dumped that in. When stirring the dry stuff, something told me to stop and check the recipe. Oh, the sugar goes in a different bowl. Rats. Now I have to wash two bowls and how am I going to get the sugar all out of the flour? The recipe called for a small bowl for the next few ingredients so I obediently found a small bowl and got most of the sugar out of the big bowl even though it had some flour in it. I got out the eggs (expired a week ago but that was the “sell by” date) and a stick of butter (it was fresh, I use lots of butter!) This I melted and stirred in. It was pretty hard to whisk as my bowl was so small. It was then I realized I also had to add half the buttermilk in that bowl. Rats, rats, rats! I would have to use (and wash) a THIRD bowl because clearly I didn’t have room for the buttermilk.
From the beginning I knew I didn’t have buttermilk and was just planning to wing it. I puzzled over just how to do that. I never have liked buttermilk since that episode when I was fourteen. I was not sure how to make it, but I think you can make it with vinegar. The million dollar question was: How do you make it thick? I threw caution to the winds and put in 1/3 cup of sour cream and filled the rest of the cup with milk and stirred. It looked and had the texture, sort of, of buttermilk as I remember it, so I thankfully skipped the vinegar altogether.
I decided to just go ahead and add the fake buttermilk to the small bowl to avoid washing a third bowl and it sloshed over the top a few times but I won. When mixed, I poured it all together into the big bowl and stirred, being careful not to over-mix… per the recipe instructions.
The recipe said I must use an ice cream scoop to measure the amount into each greased muffin cup. I searched through the utensil drawer, dishwasher and even the dishes in the sink but couldn’t find it. I just used a spoon and guessed on each scoop. I filled all twelve muffin spaces and had enough left over for approximately three more muffins. It was only later that I read the recipe only made twelve.
While the first dozen was baking I idly speculated how old the allspice was. I looked for and found the code. I couldn’t decipher it but there was an 800 number so I called the manufacturer. The recorded message said spices were good for years. I smiled. They revealed the secret of the code, but it didn’t fit with my code so I pushed the button for a live operator. She was sweet, but after giving her my code she shockingly said they no longer used that code. Their current code had been in use for twenty years. Her recommendation was I had better replace the allspice. Since my muffins were in the oven with the twenty year old allspice in it already, I began to feel uneasy. I poured the rest of it out of the tin and on a plate to see if anything was moving. I got out a magnifying glass. The spice smelled good and nothing moved, but I still wasn’t sure microscopic bugs weren’t dancing a jig in that tin.
I thought about years ago when I was a customer service agent. I knew many ladies and gents that I worked with that gave out incorrect advice, information, or simply lied when they didn’t know what to say. I decided since I didn’t see bugs I am not going to believe this tin of allspice is twenty years old. Nevertheless, It went into the trash.
While clearing up my mess as the muffins finished baking, I peeked at the date on the flour. It expired two months ago. It got tossed out.
By now, the delicious muffin smell was wafting around and I peeked in to see if they even rose enough to look like muffins and not only did they rise, they looked and smelled wonderful. When I took them out they popped out perfectly. I washed the muffin tin and baked the other three an entire twenty minutes. I put them all on a large beautiful blue plate and admired them.
It’s too bad I just couldn’t make myself eat one.