Every time I bake, ok maybe not every time, but almost every time, I think about Marion Cunningham, the doyenne of home cooking for whom I spent the better part of a year interning. I learned more about baking under her care than all the years since, which is why, even today, she’s in my head, instructing me to use a gentle hand when mixing my banana bread or reminding me how to cut butter into flour for tender biscuits.
When I went to Marion’s house for the job interview, I immediately noticed two things. First, she was striking to look at, tall with silver hair and cornflower blue eyes. Second, her kitchen smelled amazing, thanks to the free-form apricot tart just out of the oven that was beautiful enough for a magazine cover. She set it in front of me to enjoy as we talked on her patio out back. I was overwhelmed that she would make such a tart just for me, an intern candidate she’d never met before. It was the first of many lessons in hospitality that will forever be my example.
Marion died yesterday at the age of 90, something I learned from this lovely homage by New York Times’ writer Kim Severson. Upon reading it, I felt compelled to bake. It needed to be something of Marion’s, with no room for any of my usual healthy antics: no flax meal or oat flour, no substituting yogurt for butter, no paring back the sugar. Marion loved her iceberg wedges with blue cheese dressing, she wasn’t shy with the mayonnaise on a chicken salad, and insisted that shortening made a superior pie crust. She was admired by foodies and famous chefs alike, yet always stayed true to who she was: an excellent, unapologetic home cook. Call her a chef and she’d correct you.
After some thought, I settled on a muffin recipe from The Breakfast Book. It calls for fresh ginger, of which I had none. What I did have were several pounds of olallieberries picked yesterday morning with the kids.
The muffins turned out beautifully, a testament to Marion’s talent as a recipe writer. I think she would have approved. It felt both sad and cathartic to be baking. Indeed, a few tears dropped into the batter along with all those berries. But at least I wasn’t alone, Marion was right there with me, reminding me not to over mix the batter.
I wrote about Marion and her crispy, delicious tacos a while back. You can find that here.
Lemon Olallieberry Muffins
Feel free to substitute blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries (or roughly chopped fresh cranberries) if you don’t have olallieberries.
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 3/4 cup sugar
• Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 1/2 cups olallieberries, blackberries, or blueberries
Makes 12 muffins
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin tin.
In a medium bowl, use electric beaters or a whisk to cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the lemon zest and the eggs and whisk until incorporated. Add the buttermilk and mix again until incorporated. Add the flour and baking powder and use a rubber spatula to fold them into the wet batter just until the dry ingredients are mixed in. The batter should be a smooth, even consistency. Add the berries and gently fold them into the batter just until evenly distributed. Use a light hand when mixing the batter, less is more here.
Divide the batter into 12 muffin tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before eating. Best served warm.
Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s Fresh Ginger Muffins recipe in The Breakfast Book.