Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blueberry Muffins: The Recipe, and The Ghost Story

This recipe has a story. It comes from a church cookbook that was a typical fundraiser item in the 60s and 70s. The recipe was offered by Hattie Johnson. Recipes in it are couched in terms that were most likely common to cooks of that time and needed no definition, like, "bake in a hot oven", or ingredients like Swan's Down Cake Flour and cardamon.

I acquired this cookbook from the wife of the ghost who haunts my ex-husband's house.

Thought I picked it up at a rummage sale, huh?

Elmer and Rose Waterman lived in the Elgin, IL house until their deaths. I'm not sure when Rose passed, but Elmer died sometime in February 1990, I believe. He died in the house and to my knowledge never really left. The children came in and did a massive clean-out and painted most everything a creamy white.

My then husband and I moved in sometime in August 1990. We had taken title a couple weeks previous and I had decided to go in and do some painting and hanging of window treatments and such before the big move-in day.

One area of concern was a patch of hardwood flooring between the two bedrooms and the bathroom that served as sort of a hallway. The area was continuous wood with the bedrooms, but in the hallway, someone had decided it should be painted a bright RED. I was not so enamoured. I masked the area and put down zip strip. A bit later, on my knees, gloved, and scraper in hand I am busy scraping away the vestiges of a poor decision. The wood beneath was obviously stained and sealed with a good quality oil-based varnish, because the red latex was proving no match for me. Still, as I worked, my concentration was on the task at hand.

As I said, it was August. It was warm. The windows were open and the doors to each room stood open. Suddenly, all the doors slammed shut. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I had the intense feeling that I was no longer alone in this house in the middle of the afternoon. It felt like someone was peering over my shoulder. So much so, that I quickly turned around, looking to see who had come in on me unaware.

There was no one there.

Okay, so a breeze could have slammed the doors. I checked the house, I was still alone. I went back to the task at hand. I was no more than back to my knees when the queasy feeling of unease returned. And then, as clearly as if someone had spoken the words aloud, I heard, "What are you doing to my house!"

A touch of schizophrenia, perhaps? I don't know.

I do know there were many other coincidences and strange things that happened in the house. I know that given my history, I am probably more apt to interpret them as ghostly encounters. I did not relate this incident to my husband when it happened. I do try to keep my flakiness level to a low roar. I do know that a few weeks later when my husband and I were having supper in front of the television, he casually asked me if I thought the house was haunted.

Okay. My ex is the most grounded person, I have ever known. He is so much the realist that he repeatedly shot down my goal of home-ownership in the pricey Chicagoland real estate market when we were first married. It was not until I managed a $13,000 bonus the next year, that he gave the idea a second thought. To have him ask if I thought our new home was haunted, well, it took me aback.

I asked him why, and he related feelings that Elmer was here with us. After all, he died in the house. My ex is Catholic so we debated having a priest come in and bless our new home. I guess that it is not quite an exorcism, but we finally decided against it. We both sensed Elmer was simply worried about his home and garden.

Each time we made changes to the house, we sensed his concern. So it is really no surprise that we should find his wife's cookbook while installing a dishwasher in the kitchen. Somehow it had slid down between a back splash and a built-in cabinet, never to be retrieved.

I have played with this recipe a lot. I generally use just a measured cup of blueberries and I don't coat them in flour, just add them last; and barely mix them in. I soften the butter in my microwave, which wasn't invented when Hattie submitted her recipe for the cookbook. I use a 6-muffin tin to make those huge fancy muffins that beckon to us in delis.

Sometimes, when feeling like I need to be a bit more nutrition-conscious, I switch out a cup of the white flour with a cup of oatmeal. The oatmeal adds a lot of fiber and surprisingly, a creaminess to the texture which is quite wonderful, although the muffins I made yesterday are as Hattie made them, though with a scant cup rather than a pint of blueberries.

I also use an additional bit of sugar, sprinkling the top of the batter of each muffin with a 1/4 t. of sugar before baking.

There is another blueberry muffin recipe in the book calling for 1 1/2 cup of blueberries and the more modern recipe in the Moosewood Cookbook calls for a cup; leading me to believe Hattie had her own blueberry patch! And, that perhaps within the Martha and Mary Circle there was perhaps a bit of a competition as to who made the best blueberry muffins!

The recipe, as written, by Hattie Johnson for the "Good Things to Eat" Rockford Bethesda Mary and Martha Circle Cookbook:

Blueberry Muffins

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 2/3 cups flour
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 cup milk
1 pint blueberries

Cream butter and sugar, then eggs well beaten. Mix and sift flour, baking powder and salt (reserving 1/2 cup flour to be mixed with cleaned berries and to be added to the batter last) then add dry ingredients alternately with milk to creamed mixture. Fill greased muffin tins two-thirds full and bake in hot oven (375 degrees) about twenty minutes. Serve hot.

M-m-m good!

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