I prepared today’s recipe as part of my workshop at the Wellington County Museum & Archives near Fergus. It’s located in the former poor house — a facility active during the time of the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. The amazing participants in my workshop were full of stories and ideas about the Butter Milk Muffins recipe contributed by Mrs. Nick. Swartz.
I put 4 cups (1 quart) of store-bought buttermilk in a bowl. We discussed the difference between the butter milk I used and the butter milk Mrs. Swartz would use in 1906. The butter milk available then would be the liquid left after making butter from unpasteurized and unhomogenized cow’s milk. The butter milk I bought is a creation using milk and cultures. I could try making my own using cream but I’d need a great deal to get 1 quart of butter milk plus commercial cream is not the same as it was in 1906. Another way to get the effect of butter milk is to add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to milk.
The next step was to crack two eggs in a bowl and beat them before adding to the bowl of butter milk. I added a teaspoon of salt to the bowl and started adding flour. I added 5 cups and stirred to judge the texture. The group and I agreed it was almost “batter” but could benefit from another cup of flour. I also dissolved the teaspoon of baking soda in a few teaspoons of hot water before adding it to the bowl.
The next decision was how to bake the muffins. I greased a baking sheet and dropped tablespoons of batter on the pan before baking at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. A creative museum staff member baked the rest of the batter in cup cake/muffin tins. The batter had time to rise a bit more and then they grew even more in the cups. She baked them for about 20 minutes. It would be interesting to try making the muffins in muffin rings. This is the technique for making the English version of muffins and a few other recipes in the Berlin Cook Book mention this piece of equipment.
I don’t think I’ve found Mrs. Nick. Swartz. There are 34 people in Waterloo North (the towns of Berlin and Waterloo plus surrounding areas) with the surname Swartz in the 1911 census but none are Nicholas or any variation of that first name. According to the Waterloo Generations website there is a Nicolaus Schwartz but he and his wife would be in their late 70s when the cook book was published and they don’t appear in the 1901 or 1911 census in Berlin Ontario. Misspellings and even intentional changes in spelling of surnames is very common within families and in the census. The same sort of misprint took place a few times in the cook book so it is hard to know exactly who to search out. The population of Berlin was very mobile as people moved in for work or out for further opportunities in larger centres or even back to the farms or villages where they grew up.
The muffins have an interesting texture. The interior has lots of air bubbles so it is lighter than it first appears. All the workshop tasters liked the Butter Milk Muffins. One woman commented that she’d have another if there was some jam and butter. I agree that they are better with a little something. However, two boys ate several and took some home so the muffins were a hit in that family. A few participants asked for the recipe so tonight dear reader you are not the first to see the recipe for Mrs. Nick Swartz’ Butter Milk Muffins!
BUTTER MILK MUFFINS
1 quart butter milk, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon of soda dissolved in warm water, 1 teaspoon of salt and flour sufficient to make a good batter. Beat the eggs well, stir them into the milk, then add the flour and salt, lastly the soda. Bake in a quick oven.