Marion Cunningham’s last word in nutmeg muffins



A few weeks ago when I was in Cambridge for work, I returned home with three things: a lot of gin, yards and yards of floral bias tape, and a recipe for nutmeg muffins that I will probably bake for the rest of my life.

I woke up in my AirBnB room one morning with the smell of melted butter in the air. It turned out that my hostess was baking Marion Cunningham’s last word in nutmeg muffins. The muffins were, without a doubt, the best thing I ate in ten days, and more importantly, they were a solace, at least as far as a muffin can be. I find work travel is becoming harder over time – partly because so much of my equilibrium comes from being at home, and partly because I’m usually exhausted, but also – and perhaps this is because I’ve read too much Adrienne Rich and Shulamith Firestone this week – I am at the point where prolonged absences from Johannes render me pretty miserable. I don’t want to be that woman, but I am.

The muffins were a glorious distraction. I ended up borrowing my hostess’s copy of Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book and holed up in bed that night to write down the recipe and, to no one’s surprise, around ten other recipes for baked breakfast goods as well. Every recipe in that book feels like the life I am trying to make for myself, it feels like, paraphrasing Ted Hughes, the me I love and want to live with.

(Bloody Ted Hughes. As much as I find him problematic so many of his words have lodged themselves in my mind, have become part of my inner monologue, the way I think about my life.)

But I digress – we’re here to talk about Cunningham. There’s a recipe for buttermilk pancakes, for thin yellow cornmeal pancakes that I’d like to eat with melted butter and drizzled honey, and a yeasted buckwheat pancake. Yeasted. Buckwheat. Pancake. This is the stuff of culinary arousal.

The trick to these muffins is, I think, the fact that it contains one and a half whole nutmegs that you grate into the batter, and that it contains almost a cup of cream. I should also mention that although Cunningham presents her muffins as is, my hostess topped hers with a streusel, and this is now how I make it too. There’s something so ubiquitously American about streusel-topped muffins, which feels right in this context, and although it means you have crumbs of streusel everywhere (I have a particularly bad record of accidentally dropping streusel crumbs into my shirt as I eat), life’s too dismal to worry about your breasts being coated in a thin layer of sugar, flour and melted butter.








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