Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

What is a muffin?

In an online discussion of English usage recently the question of muffins came up. These kinds of discussions seem to recur every couple of years. Last time round it was on scones and biscuits and cookies. Each English-speaking country seems to have its own terminology for such things.

My wife Val putting muffin mixture into muffin pans, ready for baking

My wife Val putting muffin mixture into muffin pans, ready for baking

It just so happened that my wife was making muffins for breakfast today. which made it easy to take photos to illustrate the process. She happened to be making cheese muffins,  which are “savoury” rather than sweet. Americans seem to find it difficult to understand what “savoury” means, so I hope it will help to think of, say, blueberry muffins as “sweet” and cheese muffins as “savoury” (or savory, if you prefer).

These are South African muffins.

They may therefore differ from American muffins, American “English” muffins, and British English muffins, and possibly Australian muffins, New Zealand muffins, Canadian muffins, Indian muffins and muffins of any other English-speaking countries.

They are made in muffin pans, which are sold in shops as muffin pans. That seems to imply that calling them muffins is not un ique to our family, but quite widespread in South Africa.

In many tea or coffee shops you can order muffins, which are sometimes bigger than these homemade ones, but are basically the same shape. They come in various flavours — blueberry, bran, lemon & poppyseed, chocolate chip, carrot, and a number of others.

The homemade cheese ones can be eaten on their own, or you can cut them in half and butter them. Plain ones without cheese can also be buttered and have jam on them.

Val got the recipe from her mother, who wrote down all her children’s favourite recipes in notebooks which she gave to her daughters and a niece. Most of them, including this one, probably came from her own mother, Martha Ellwood, who was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, England.

Muffins in a muffin pan ready for baking.

Muffins in a muffin pan ready for baking.

Cumberland is in the north-west of England, and so their muffins may be different from those in other parts of England. Cumberland cumpets are certainly different from crumpets elsewhere in England, and resemble Scottish pancakes, so perhaps the muffins are different too.

Cheese muffins, baked and ready for eating, either cut in half and buttered, or plain

Cheese muffins, baked and ready for eating, either cut in half and buttered, or plain

And here, for anyone who wants to try it, is the recipe for Dorothy Greene’s Cheese Muffins:

Dorothy Greene's Cheese Muffin Recipe

Dorothy Greene’s Cheese Muffin Recipe

 

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2 thoughts on “What is a muffin?

  1. Most interesting – that’s just what I’ve been discussing with a fish shop owner here.

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