Friday, May 22, 2009


“Mr. O’Callaghan was known to be condescending and mild under the influence of tea and muffins – sweetly so if the cream be plentiful and the muffins soft with butter; but still, as a man and a pastor, he was severe.” - From The Bertrams by Anthony Trollope


The Muffin Man delivers them fresh - Punch magazine illustration 1892

I am a great reader of 19th century English literature, an avid fan of Austen and Dickens, Trollope and Thackeray, and Tea Time plays a large role in the daily life of both the young and old, rich and poor. Afternoon (Low Tea) or evening (High Tea), the table was laden with what good things could be afforded, cakes and ham, crumpets and scones, cream and jam or simply bread and butter. Whether at the Great Manor House or a simple workingman’s hovel, there was much pomp and ritual surrounding the preparation of the tea, much made of the laying of the table and the “choice morsels” given pride of place on the table and offered to the head of the household or the guest; this was one meal that was rarely missed. And from all that has been written in the fiction of the time, it was surely a treat that could soothe the most cantankerous of curmudgeons, tame the severest of the severe, warm the heart of even an old grouch.

My mother, as has been said before (and I say it again, much to her chagrin, even though she will agree with every word) was no June Cleaver, waiting at home for us to slam in the house after a long, hard day at school with a tall glass of cold milk and a slice of layer cake. She worked and did volunteer work, joined clubs and bowled. She never really liked to cook and, once we were old enough, often left it to us. Snacks were taken willy nilly, packaged cookies, toasted Poptarts, ice cream or Ding Dongs, this was Sixties eating at its most profound! I needed no set times, no formal settings, no great gatherings, no special baked goods. Lunch segued into snack segued into dinner with no clear, defined lines (I eat all the time), and comfort was guaranteed. Fights between siblings and bad grades forgotten, discontented soreheads pacified.

When I moved to France and married a Frenchman, I discovered that the Old Continent organized their day around specific mealtimes much as did, and still do, the British, and afternoon Tea Time in Great Britain or Le Quatre-Heures in France was de rigueur. The family gathers around the table at precisely 4 o’clock, the time so far etched into the daily schedule that snack time, the afternoon break, is now referred to as “The Four O’Clock”. Much simpler than the English version, it is a quick cup of coffee and a few sweets, cookies or a slice of lunchtime’s leftover dessert, a break in the working day to combat the afternoon coup de pompe (that afternoon lag or sleepiness that hits you just around this time). Visiting in-laws and friends, I had to learn restraint and patience. No dashing into the kitchen to grab a slice of this or a handful of that; I waited until it was time, pulling out coffee cups and saucers, specially prepared treats, the loaf cake or quick bread I had brought along as a gift. I must admit that it was a nice break, the shared moment and cozy chat with friends, the appreciation of the good things offered and the time spent together.

Illustration depicting Scandal chasing Truth from the room as women gossip around the Tea Table

I have been known to snap and bark like a rabid dog if I miss a meal, or go all grumpy if the restaurant I am brought to looks lousy or a meal is delayed or if the cupboard is bare as mealtime approaches. I do think that food, the right food, has the means of calming “the savage breast” and making us, if not quite docile, at least putty in the right person’s hands. Who among us does not find solace and comfort in food? I am rarely severe as is Mr. O’Callaghan, I don’t ruffle easily or often, but when the spouse growls or the sons wail or spew venom, I tend to find refuge in the kitchen, baking, cooking and eating. I have grown to believe in the mollifying effect of food, anger quelled, tempers soothed. Warm, fresh muffins eaten straight out of the oven are indeed enough to make one happy. If something goes against the grain, sit down at the table, slather butter over the small, sweet bread, add a dollop of cream or your favorite jelly or even a slice of sharp cheese and all is well again.

This is what I have decided to bring to the table for this month’s Bread Baking Day. BBD #20, a bread baking event created by Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte (aka kochtopf), is hosted this month by Rachel of Tangerine’s Kitchen and Rachel has chosen Multigrain Breads as this month’s challenge. I decided to go quick this month, what with hubby on vacation and our move looming heavily on the horizon, and I found the perfect recipe in my much-loved The Vegetarian Epicure book two by Anna Thomas. I followed her recipe, simply folding in a heaping teaspoon of sesame seeds to the batter and sprinkling more on top. I had expected a much plainer, almost savory muffin, yet I was so pleasantly surprise when I bit into a tender, airy, almost cake-like muffin, just sweet enough to be eaten as a snack with jelly, yet perfect to be served alongside a main course and the perfect foil for something spicy like chili.


¾ cup (90 g) wholewheat flour
¾ cup (125 g) yellow corn meal (I used semolina for Polenta)
½ cup (50 g) rye flour
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (45 g) rolled oats
1 ½ cups (375 ml) milk
1 large egg
¼ cup (62 ½ ml) vegetable oil
¼ cup (85 g) honey
2 Tbs light sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Butter or line with paper cups a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a large mixing bowl, sift or stir together the wheat flour, corn meal, rye flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the rolled oats and a heaping teaspoon of sesame seeds.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, oil and honey.

Stir the two mixtures together vigorously until well blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Sprinkle a generous amount of sesame seeds on top of each muffin.

Bake for 20 minutes until risen, golden and set in the center.

Remove from the oven and remove the muffins from the tins onto a cooling rack. Best eaten fresh, warm or room temperature. If you have leftover, gently reheat them in an oven or slice and toast before eating.

“And the muffin is quite hot,” said Fanny, stooping down to a tray which stood before the peat fire, holding the muffin dish. ”But perhaps you’d like a morsel of buttered toast; say the word, uncle, and I’ll make it in a brace of seconds.”

“In course she will,” said Mrs. O’Dwyer: “and happy, too, av you’ll only say that you have a fancy, Father Bernard.”

But Father Bernard would not own to any such fancy. The muffin, he said, was quite to his liking, and so was the tea; and from the manner in which he disposed of these delicacies, even Mrs. Townsend might have admitted that this assertion was true, though she was wont to express her belief that nothing but lies could, by any possibility, fall from his mouth.

- Castle Richmond by Anthony Trollope


Cindy said...

Great post, Jamie. The integration of literature and food -- always fun and informative!

Linda said...

What a very lovely post! I went with my friend to Niagara-on-the-Lake last summer to see 3 plays that were part of the Shaw festival they host each year. We left the husbands behind while we enjoyed some culture! There is a beautiful old hotel there...Prince of Wales Hotel. We stayed in a B & B, but went to high tea at the hotel. What a treat and so relaxing. Life is meant to be savored.

Chef E said...

As I say, always love your pics, and writing! Love the food, but I will say I saw your breadsticks after I made mine, and wished I had been more creative, but they were a last minute though of left over dough...

Yours rock with your cooking genius! My mom did not cook regular food as well as she baked, so we were opposite in that spectrum...Now you make me want to revisite old classics I need to dust off...

Jamie said...

@Cindy - with this post I realized how often I read about food in the books I read and plan on linking them more often! (love your blog)

@Linda - "Life is meant to be savored." That is perfect!

@Chef E - ha ha keep watching because maybe this idea will be the basis of a new food blogger challenge that I have been mulling over with Kate :-)

girlichef said...

I so enjoy reading your posts!! I sometimes wish I was on a European "set schedule"...of course I'd like to be THERE doing it ;)

Mary said...

Oh, my! I really enjoyed my visit today. I'm sure those muffins are as tasty as they are beautiful. Have a wonderful weekend.

Sara said...

I love the sound of these muffins! I try to bake with grains as much as possible, these look so healthy and delicious.

Elra said...

What a nice and super nutritious muffins jaime! This type of muffins sure will give me tons of energy to get going through out the day. Delicious!

doggybloggy said...

fun fun fun....I want to live in your brain for a day!

Jamie said...

@Christo - (lol) Be careful! Some people (close to home) think that my brain is dangerous territory... But, then again, yours is kind of funny, too :-)

The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Jamie,

I find that when I arrive on your site I slow down my reading. I want to enjoy every moment and have it last. You put so much heart and work into your posts.

I love all of those old books from the 1800s, and teas are always my favorite part of them. My mother also didn't enjoy cooking, and like you we ate whenever (and whatever), without celebration. I always thought it would be really special to celebrate a meal like tea on a daily basis.

One of the things I've done for my daughter is to have family meals all the time. She doesn't appreciate them now, but I hope they rub off on her later. I'll be trying out your muffins on her soon.

Food is important.


LoveFeast said...

What a wonderful piece of writing! I took the time to savor it, and it definitely left me filled up and appreciating the "good thing offered and the time spent together". Maybe we appreciate a meal shared or given because it meets a human need of being cared for both in body and soul. I also loved the French idea of "The Four O'clock"--what a great time to stop, gather around the table. Lovely. -Chris Ann

Rachel said...

Interesting read. Multi-grain muffins...this I got to try.. Thanks for sending it in,

Jenn said...

That was a fun read!

Jenn said...

darn pressed enter too I was about to say. That was a fun read. I think my mind is sometimes on the european mind-set. Though, I'm not europe, I tend to think certain times are tea-time. Maybe it's my lack of concentration during the afternoon. Or maybe it's because I don't have any of those muffins.

Dragon said...

Wonderful post! I always learn something when I come here. :)

burpandslurp said...

I LOVE how you connect food and books together! I used to read a LOT of Enid Blyton books, and was really actually reading it for the food porn...the pop biscuits, the midnight feasts with all the sandwiches and cakes and fire-roasted hotdogs...
I wish everyone had time for such leisurely meals (like lovely tea) again as in the olden times!

Sirenoftitan said...

And here's the just the song to go with your cup of tea !

Everything stops for tea

Jamie said...

Oh Siren, that is brilliant! Thanks for the link to this song - if anyone stops in here, click on the link SirenofTitan left and listen!

Barbara Bakes said...

Once again I enjoyed reading your post. It's not often you find a mult-grain muffin that is light. I'll have to give it a try!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I have to take my time reading your posts, you put so much into them! Thank you.
These look like wonderfully rich muffins.

Cindystar said...

just out of the oven this morning!
and they were pretty comfortable while it was snowing outside!
thank you for the recipe, my safe anchorage for this month BBD!
...and thank you for your novel, you are so inspiring!


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