Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

I have a bit of a reputation. Some people call me a seed stealer.  I prefer the term  “forager”.

It all began in my tender years of five or six when I trailed alongside my Mom and brother walking along Muskoka roads lined with raspberry bushes. We held cardboard pint boxes in our little hands and were encouraged to pluck the red, ripe ones that slipped off the white core easily. There were thorns to avoid and lots of scratches to our bare legs and arms. The sun was beating down and sweat covered our brows. But boy oh boy, did those berries taste sweet. I ate nine out of every ten berries I picked, filling my box at a snail’s pace, but without a care. This was a hunt and I was hooked.  

My mom had to tear me away from the berry thicket and throw all my berry stained clothes into the wash. We never picked enough for the pies or jams we talked and dreamed of. In fact, my berries barely covered the bottom of my box but were  just enough for tomorrow’s breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies and cream. 

Decades later, I found myself walking down a road in Grass Valley, California with my sister-in-law, Nora until I stopped dead in my tracks. I was receiving heavy signals from my personal berry radar.  

“Are those blackberries?!” 

Nora couldn’t feign an ounce of interest. It was devilishly hot in the dry August sun and she was parched, needing a cool glass of water back home– which was not in the direction I was pointing. 

“You can’t do that!” she screamed as I hopped down into the ditch, climbing towards a flimsy fence separating me from my bounty.  It was easy to climb under and I did, rewarded by a thick cluster of fat, juicy berries.

“Stop Mado, it’s private property,” she yelled as I dove into her neighbour’s field. I pulled my black shirt out like a hamper and dropped the berries in by the handful. They were three times the size of an Ontario blackberry and as sweet as can be. The proliferation stunned me.  I’d never seen so many ripe, blackberries in my fruit-loving life.  

To keep the family peace, I crawled back under the fence obeying my sister-in-law’s admonishments while offering her a handful of the stolen goods. 

“Huh, what are these?” She held one berry in her fingers, brought it before her nose, inhaled,    opened her mouth, popped the berry in and started to moan, loudly. 

I’d found an accomplice. 

The following day we returned to the field armed with empty yogurt containers, filling two each in no time. That evening we dined on my first and most memorable pie. Pure blackberry pie.  I’d never made pie pastry before and somehow fashioned a semblance  with flour and shortening found in the back corners of her cupboards. I filled it with our black bounty, fresh from the pick but already leaking juice, crushing the bottom berries with its weight.  

I had set the oven at 425 F and in 10 minutes it had not only preheated but was rumbling like a coal fire.  I opened the oven door and felt a blast of heat so outrageously hot, I trembled in fear, offering my sweet berry pie to this monster. I waited five minutes and wisely turned off the oven, realizing the oven thermometer was broken, fearing my pie would explode in a ball of lava if I didn’t stop the oven’s frenzy. 

Remarkably, those free California blackberries and a broken oven thermometer was all I needed to make the most flaky, golden, berry-filled perfect pie of my life. Many have followed but none, thankfully,  with as much drama. 

I’m still a forager and a seed stealer dividing my time between downtown Toronto and rural BC. I am apt to walk down Logan Ave with a small set of scissors and surreptitiously snip off some morning glory seeds I have been watching dry throughout the fall.  Recently I filled my pockets with sweet pea pods at a Duncan community garden, knowing the owner would consider me a seed-saver, not a thief.  I expect the folks in the cars lined up at our Starbucks drive-through think the same when they see me roll down my window and pull a handful of brown and dry Cosmos flowers into the car as I wait for my latte order. 

It’s all Ling’s fault.  She asked me what those purple and white Cosmos flowers were growing in Riverdale gardens in the 1990s.  I didn’t know their name, then.  I asked her why she cared and she slipped a hand into her jeans’ pocket and revealed a mess of crumbled brown seed heads. Next, she scribbled “Purple Flowers” in Chinese on a piece of paper, put the seed heads in the middle and folded an instant, origami paper envelope. 

“I brought seeds from Shanghai,” she said proudly. I knew then that any refugee fleeing their homeland who cares enough to pack seeds for the escape was exactly the kind of garden guru I wanted to learn from.  Ling taught me not only seed saving, but how to root cuttings and separate clusters of African violets. 

So are we thieves or stewards of the earth?  I like to think the latter.

That’s why I came up with this muffin recipe.  It combines the best of The BC Forageables – blackberries —  and uses up sourdough that is normally discarded. A double save!  

Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

 

1 1/4 cup            all purpose, organic

½ cup                            whole spelt

1 tsp                    baking powder

1 tsp                    baking soda

1 tsp                    salt

 

 

1 stick                           unsalted butter, room temp

2/3 cup               refined sugar

2                          eggs

Zest                     of one lemon

100 gm/3.5 oz              sourdough discard

 

2 cups                           frozen blackberries

3/4 cup                sour cream/yogurt

 

 

 

Preheat oven to  400F. 

 

In a medium bowl combine or sift all purpose, spelt, baking powder, baking soda and  salt. 

 

In a mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Combine lemon zest and gently fold in sourdough discard.

 

In medium bowl, toss frozen berries with 1 tbsp of flour mixture

 

Fold in half of the flour mixture and half of sour cream, then repeat.  Gently add blackberries in flour. 

 

Divide mixture using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup dry measure into 12 muffin cups.  

 

Bake 20-25 min or until golden and  tester comes out clean.

Memoir of a muffin

When I tasted my first bran muffin at the corner of College and Bathurst at The Mars, it was a revelation. I was 19, wore a peasant skirt over Kodiak boots and rolled my own cigarettes with Drum tobacco. I thought myself street-wise but was anything but … Just incredibly curious and always, always hungry. Thus, that first ravenous bite into a Mars bran muffin – dark with molasses and dense like black forest cake – is pure gold in my food memory bank.

My boyfriend Bob was also a revelation. Nothing about him resembled where I came from. He hadn’t grown up in North Toronto or gone to Upper Canada College (like my brother, father or grandfather) but he sure knew enough about betting to pique my father’s gambling instincts  and instill a gin rummy playing camaraderie between them.

One summer evening at a family cottage dinner, my stately grandmother innocently asked “And what is it that you do, my dear?” while passing Bob the gravy boat.

“I’m a bookie,” chirped Bob grinning like a cherub, thrilled to make this reveal. Nonnie promptly cleared her throat and my grandfather mumbled “Holy sailor” but no one else asked another word, quickly sweeping this unpleasant news under the nearest carpet.

IMG_2896But back to the muffin. The Mars muffin. It was big, filling and dotted with plump, fat raisins. They were served hot from the oven, sliced in half with a large pat of cold butter wedged inside and fully melted in seconds. Diners, breakfast eggs, take-out baklava and percolated coffee played large in my coming of culinary age. These gigantic muffins were new to diners in the 70s and customers would line up in front of the cash register hoping to leave with half a dozen of these towering –no, glistening – babies stuffed inside a Mars embossed, white cardboard box.

Near that same cash register, along the long, white Formica diner bar, were stools occupied by inner-city characters of dubious distinction. Bob seemed to know them all. They had nicknames like Baldy, Joe the Dipper or Car Fare. Some came “packing” and others had Mafia affiliations following them like shadows.

Bob, being Bob, liked to break away pieces of my W.A.S.P. veneer by unexpectedly pushing me in front of one of these cigar smoking men at the Mars saying, “Hey Dukey, meet my girlfriend Lynn.  She’s a Haver-girl.” I seethed at these embarrassments…  but they didn’t stop me from moving to New York with Bob a year later and attending an Ivy League college while he worked as a bouncer at Studio 54.

IMG_2898But back to the muffins.  I made some today in my West coast kitchen as the rain pelted across a gray, foggy horizon in a day-long deluge. I searched through my baking boxes and pulled out a bag of wheat bran, which now looks oddly old school next to newer fibrous fads like chia, flax or hemp. I found some spelt which adds such friendly nuttiness to any baking equation.

I mixed the dry and wet ingredients in two separate bowls. Quick breads and muffins all like this preparatory segregation with just minimal combining prior to the bake. Crosby’s molasses is a necessary must if you want real tasting bran muffins. And remember to measure the oil in the measuring cup first as prep for the molasses, which will slide out of the measuring cup effortlessly if you do.

Unlike the Mars bran muffin, these ones are good for you: moist, satisfying and rich. I’m willing to place a double-or-nothing bet on Crisco as the trans-fat source of those yesteryear muffins. Yet still, I savour that muffin’s nostalgia and happily munched on all these memories when creating, baking and eating my latest version.

IMG_2899

Banana Bran Muffins

Healthy, fibre-full muffins with a rich, moist texture and just a hint of banana or apple flavour.

Dry Ingredients:

1 ½ cups          wheat bran

¾ cup               all purpose flour

¾ cup               spelt

¾ cup               raisins or chopped dates

1 tsp                 cinnamon

1 tsp                 baking soda

1 tsp                 baking powder

½ tsp                salt

Wet ingredients

2 eggs              mixed

1 cup               mashed, really ripe bananas (about 2 ½) OR unsweetened apple sauce

¾ cup              plain yogurt

½ cup              milk

1/3 cup            molasses

¼ cup              vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 F

Mix dry and wet ingredients separately in large bowl.  Combine until just mixed. Use a ¼ cup measure to dollop into large paper muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes.  Makes 12 large muffins.