Spring has finally tentatively poked its head around the corner of our county and with it, the three culinary constants of spring have arrived; fiddleheads, asparagus, and rhubarb. I must say, although I am loyal to apples as a crop, I look forward mightily to rhubarb season. I just love rhubarb. I also love muffins and the two go together like, well, like rhubarb in a muffin.
We Martins have reprinted our cookbook that features fresh seasonal Ontario produce and this is one of my go-to recipes within it during rhubarb season. This cookbook was first printed in 2015. It is a culmination of longtime family favourites, as well as newer recipes that were used at different times and places during Martin public and private events. It was intended to be a one-off thing but it’s back by popular demand, thanks to some of you!It’s prime rhubarb season and Ontario is also producing some great little greenhouse-grown strawberries to accompany it. Rhubarb is a cool weather crop; as soon as it gets hot it’s done. Literally. It flops over in exhaustion.
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The comments and recipe are my own.
Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins
DirectionsPreheat oven to 400° F (204° C). Mix together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, baking powder, and soda in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together egg, buttermilk and oil in a smaller bowl. Dump the chopped rhubarb and strawberries into the flour mixture, then add the liquid and gently fold it all together. Fill well-greased or paper-lined muffin tins 3/4 full using an ice cream scoop. If you want to make them extra pretty, top each one with a small strawberry half. Top with a generous sprinkle of coarse sugar. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and the tops are firm. Remove and let cool on a baking rack.
A few months ago, I wrote about a formative cookbook in my earlier cooking days; the Company’s Coming series. There’s another book that has stayed in my collection and is still hauled out and used frequently. It’s a slim little book called Muffin Mania that was published in 1982 by a pair of Canadian sisters, Cathy Prange and Joan Pauli. It was an instant success and apparently sold over 500,000 copies worldwide. It is dedicated to their mother whose “love of baking inspired us to share this collection with muffin lovers everywhere”. That tradition of sharing is now carried on by a granddaughter who has created a blog to feature the recipes her grandmother produced. That’s the sort of thing that warms the cockles of my heart, folks! (Translation: that’s the old-fashioned version of “warm fuzzies”.)
I have tried many, actually most of the 63 recipes in the book, but this blueberry muffin recipe is one that I have baked times without number. I always add the lemon zest that it suggests doing in a footnote, and then dip the tops into melted butter and white sugar. This turns a basic muffin into something very special.
I can make these all year using frozen blueberries that I put into my freezer last summer. Here’s a tip I learned many years ago: put a bit of the required flour into a flat container with sides (a cake pan or wok work well), add the frozen blueberries and gently shake them from side to side until they are all covered with flour. This keeps them from bleeding unattractive purple juice into your batter. Then you gently fold them into the batter at the very end just until mixed.
Tip #2: using an ice cream scoop with a squeezable handle creates uniformly round muffins with minimal mess.
See? Not much bleeding happening there. Now take a look at the finished product. Isn’t that beautiful? I think so.
Cultivated blueberries or wild ones? Essentially it boils down to what you are used to eating. Wild blueberry lovers claim they have more flavour, cultivated blueberry lovers like the plumpness and juice in the domestic ones. I’ve had both, and I’ve picked both. Domestic ones grow on high bushes that you stand upright to pick; wild ones are on low crawling shrubs that require one to creep around over northern rocks on one’s knees while keeping an eye out for bears. I would certainly rather pick the domestic ones and absolutely understand the high price of the wild ones. They are both fantastic when they are fresh.
Blueberries are one of the easiest things in the world to freeze; empty the container of fresh blueberries onto a paper or cloth towel, pick out the little stems and leaves, and put them in zipper bags to freeze. I usually freeze them in two-cup quantities. I know some people wash them first, but that is a giant pain, because they have to be perfectly dry before going into the freezer. I figure any lingering impurities won’t withstand the deep freeze.
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The recipes, views and stories are my own.
Bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes. While they’re cooling, prepare the melted butter and sugar for the topping. You will need to melt about 1/3 cup of butter and have 1/2 cup of sugar ready in a bowl. Dip the tops first into the butter, then into the sugar and place on a rack to finish cooling. *The original recipe calls for plain milk, but I have found that buttermilk produces a much fluffier muffin. To accommodate that switch, I swapped part of the original baking powder amount for baking soda.
Blueberry Lemon Muffins
DirectionsPreheat oven to 375°. Set aside the 2 tablespoons of flour in a baking pan or wok. Stir together the remaining flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Add the frozen blueberries to the 2 tablespoons flour and shake them gently from side to side until completely coated. Whisk together the egg, melted butter, buttermilk and lemon zest, and gently fold into the flour mixture. Do not beat. When it is almost incorporated, add the blueberries and finish folding everything together. Scoop into paper-lined muffin cups. An ice cream scoop works really well for this.
Bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes. While they’re cooling, prepare the melted butter and sugar for the topping. You will need to melt about 1/3 cup of butter and have 1/2 cup of sugar ready in a bowl. Dip the tops first into the butter, then into the sugar and place on a rack to finish cooling.
*The original recipe calls for plain milk, but I have found that buttermilk produces a much fluffier muffin. To accommodate that switch, I swapped part of the original baking powder amount for baking soda.
What is more stereotypical for Valentine’s Day than chocolate and dates? Maybe not the kind of dates I’m featuring here, but I’m all for taking advantage of themes when they jump in front of me like that. I decided to combine Valentine’s day and Family Day to continue my muffin theme.
Our particular family celebrates Family Day at least a dozen times a year. No stat holiday needed here! One wintry Saturday, some of our tribe came home to pickle beets and can applesauce. That’s one of the perks of marrying a produce farmer, see? While everyone else in the neighbourhood is frantically trying to get all their preserving done in August and September, we sit back and fold our hands and rest. Yeah, right. I’m kidding, okay? Have you ever been around an apple orchard in September and October? It’s nuts. Positively nuts. We know we will have good sauce apples later in the winter, so why add that to our autumn stress load? Anyway, in our hurry to get the first batch of apples cooked, we, um, scorched them a bit. That kettle had a thinner bottom; we were eager to get the sauce going after the beets were done and turned the burner too high, and… it burned. Yeah, I’m going to come right out and say the bad “B” word. Now what? Should we throw it away? Of course not. We are Mennonites; our frugality is next to cleanliness, which is next to Godliness, so we are duty-bound to save it. We added a bit more unburnt sauce to the burnt stuff, and my son-in-law wrote BB (Burnt Batch) on the lids, and we canned that stuff. It wasn’t a strong burnt taste, just a hint of it, especially if you knew it was there.
We agreed that the best use of the burnt sauce would be in the applesauce muffins that Steve’s mom would make for the Harvest Celebration Festival that we used to host at the farm in the Fall. She would make dozens of them in the mini muffin size for our food tent, and the kids would eagerly reach for them. The original recipe uses only applesauce and chocolate chips, but somewhere along the way, Mom added a cup of natural bran to it, which was a good move, I thought. This particular day I was hankering after date bran muffins and thought “Why not add dates as well, and cut back on the sugar?”. I divided my batter in half, snipped dates into one bowl and chocolate chips into the other one. I may have thrown a handful of chocolate chips into the date half for good measure. Bingo. That should please everybody. Then I topped them both with a sprinkle of brown sugar and either a date or chocolate chips, with a nod to both Valentine’s Day and Family Day.
It’s a large batch, so after I had filled two muffin tins and still had about two muffinsworth of batter left, I greased a mini loaf pan and poured it in there. Aw, how cute that little loaf was. The finished product reminded me of a date cake mom used to make that had a yummy brown sugar and chocolate chip topping. Does anyone else remember that one? I think some people used to make a similar one with applesauce.
We used Cortland apples for our sauce this time; often we use a mixture of red apples like McIntosh, Empire, Cortland, Ida Red and Spartan. Cortland is an all-round good baking, eating, and sauce apple. It’s a great eating apple while it’s crunchy, and superb for sauce once it softens. Its characteristics include a red/green streaky skin and a very white interior.
Note: I am excited to link this recipe to one that tells you how to make the simple, unassuming applesauce. It will be released on Monday in honour of Family Day and will include a special memory from a Martin Family member about the early days of growing and selling apples. Watch for it!
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The recipes, views, and stories are my own.
Applesauce Date Bran Muffins with Chocolate Chips
DirectionsWhisk eggs lightly in a large mixing bowl; add brown sugar and oil. Add applesauce and bran and whisk again, then add the dry ingredients that have been stirred together in a measuring pitcher. Whisk gently until smooth. Stir in desired additions. If using half dates and half chocolate chips, divide the batter in two. Fill greased muffin liners or cups 3/4 full. Sprinkle with additional brown sugar, and a few chocolate chips or a date half. Bake at 375° F for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes a generous 2 dozen.