Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blueberry Muffins From Outer Space...sort of

A few weeks ago, we went to Tougas Farm and did this...

There hadn't been a whole lot of good blueberry picking weather, but the sun and summer heat finally made their way to New England about three days before we went blueberry picking.

Growing up, we always went and picked wild blueberries that grew along the shore of a pond near where I grew up.  You had to walk about a half mile into the woods, then off the path, over fallen trees and brush, as critters scampered and snakes slithered out of the way and mosquitoes attacked.  It was an uphill walk...both ways.

This was much easier! In fact, once we got to our appointed blueberry picking place, I doubt we moved move than 5 feet in either direction - the blueberries were huge, ripe and plentiful.  And in about an hour, we had this...
Ten pounds, in fact!  And what better way to go through ten pounds of blueberries than to, once again, try to recapture and recreate that mythical legend from my childhood:

The Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin.

Sigh.  Sweeter than my first kiss...

Jordan Marsh was a department store here in the northeast, the most notable one was probably at Downtown Crossing in Boston.  But I grew up in the sticks, so the big city to us was Framingham and Natick, about 20 miles west of Boston, and a half hour drive from my hometown.  My sister, Susan, and my mom were shoppers at birth, so every weekend we would head to "the mall".  Natick Mall was a big rectangular indoor mall, two anchor stores - Filene's and Sears - on either end of an indoor concourse lined with smaller stores, including my favorite, Spencer Gifts, and my sister's favorite, Cherry, Webb & Touraine.  Shopper's World was an outdoor mall just up the street, two levels of stores with an outdoor common in the middle, and a huge domed building at one end.  That would be Jordan Marsh.
Macy's eventually bought the Jordan Marsh chain, and in the 1990's the old Shoppers' World was torn down to make room for the all too common glorified strip mall, with lots of big box retailers and chain restaurants.  Gone with it are many memories I had of the old one, such as Santa and his (live) reindeer making their annual appearance, the Easter bunny, who always brought with him a petting zoo of baby goats, sheep, ducks and chickens or the traveling aquarium, including dolphin show set up in the middle of the outdour area.  My sister gravitated towards Jordan Marsh, of course, for the shopping - these days you would compare it to somewhere between Macy's and Nordstrom's.  My favorite stops were at the Windsor Button Shop, packed with crafts, needlepoint and cross-stitch kits, yard, and of course, buttons and other sewing supplies, or the deli where we always stopped for lunch, where I tasted pastrami and lox for the first time (um, that would be on two different visits!), and frankly, I didn't care what I got for lunch so long as it came with one of those yummy half-sour pickles, right from the barrel.

But no matter how much we ate, there was always room for one more stop, and that was at the bakery inside Jordan Marsh.  You could smell it as you approached it, freshly baked goods all lined up in a display case.  It was impossible NOT to hear your stomach growl as you passed by on your way to housewares.  They had other breads, muffins and cookies, but I don't think we ever bought anything other than the Blueberry Muffins.

They were huge!  Rich, golden and cakelike on the inside, studded with blueberries, and the tops golden and crispy thanks to the generous sprinkling of sugar.  We would always by a half dozen, tucked away in a cardboard box, secured with white cotton string, to bring home.  But the aroma would follow us out to the car, and by the time we were passing through the tollbooth to get on the Mass Pike a half mile away, we would tear open the box and dig in.  A lot of people have memories that involve the back seat of a car...mine just happened to also involve Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins.  Yes, they were THAT good!

But the big spaceship that sprouted a beloved retail mall is long gone.  And in its wake, it left everyone who ever knew it with a lot of nostalgia...and a passion for blueberry muffins.
THE blueberry muffins.

I've seen fistfights between little old ladies at church, each one claiming to hold the secret recipe.  Well, maybe I exaggerate slightly, but everyone claims to have THE recipe, and it makes its appearance in every community fundraiser cookbook around here.  It's kind of funny to listen to the debate..

Beulah:  "You CRUSH half the blueberries before mixing them into the batter..."

Myrtle:  "That's STUPID, Beulah! You'd have purple muffins! I never ate a purple muffin from Jahden Mah-sh.."

Or perhaps...

Myrtle: "It's buttah..."

Beulah:  "Thats RIDICULOUS, Myrtle!  Everyone knows it's shortening..."

Loretta:  "I think it's a combination of buttah and shortening..."

Myrtle: "Oh hush up, Loretta.  You probably smash up half your blueberries, too..."

Truth is, I probably wouldn't know a true Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin if it walked up to me and slapped me in the face, but one thing's for sure.  With every blueberry I buy or pick, the memories come back, and it's the first thing I want to make with my newly acquired berries.
So as some of our sun-sweet blueberry loot was settling into its new home in my freezer,  we took some of the fresh ones and flipped through a spiral-bound church fundraiser cookbook until we found this:

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups blueberries, dusted with flour
Additional 2 tsp. sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
Blend in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Blend in vanilla and milk.
Stir in flour mixture until just blended, then fold in blueberries.
Line muffin tins with paper liners.  Spoon in batter, filling each cup nearly full. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
Bake for 30 minutes, then let cool on  wire rack for at least 30 minutes before removing from pan.

Here's they are before baking.  The batter is so thick and rich, you just know these are going to be good!
And just out of the oven...Mmmm! They sure smelled like real Jordan Marsh Muffins!

My final verdict?  The first bite or two certainly did make me think of those good ol' days, and for a moment I thought these were it.  But something was missing.  I just can't decide if it was something  to do with the recipe, of perhaps it was lacking the other memories associated with our weekly trips to Shoppers' World, to the magical dome with the out of this world blueberry muffins.


5thsister said...

absolutely wonderful post christine!!!! You had me smelling and tasting blueberries. Loved the "food fight" between the elderly ladies, too!

Willoughby said...

NOW I get it! I've seen recipes for Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins before and wondered who Jordan Marsh was!

Great post! I loved that the old ladies not only fought about the recipe, but that they had new england accents as well! Brilliant!

Mama Goose said...

Loved this! Looking forward to making muffins. B-Berries are everywhere now! Yay!

Chicago Mom said...

Are the wild blueberries still by the pond where you grew up? We had a similar difficult trek to get to wild raspberries where I grew up, but now it is a business park.

The Jordan Marsh muffins are like the Marshall Fields Frango mints here in Chicago. They disappeared, but now they are back, but I bet they won't taste them same. >sigh!<