Marion Cunningham may have been my favorite food writer. Not that a title needs to be awarded in that category, I love so many. But I usually say, when asked, that The Breakfast Book is my favorite cookbook. It is true, though it could not be more different from the other contenders. It is simple and understated, focused on one meal, no fancy photos, just a few simple drawings. Still, it is the one I return to most often and relate to the easiest. Cunningham’s voice was strong and encouraging and I like cozying up to her books.
So I was sad when I learned she had died. I always feel a bit silly mourning over a person I didn’t really know. When Colleen Dewhurst died (who happens to resemble Marion, coincidence?) I cried. But really I was crying for Marilla Cuthbert. And Matthew Cuthbert. And childhood. Is crying for a fictional character better or worse? Maybe they’re all pretty great—crying is undervalued. In any case, I was sad about Marion because they don’t seem to make them like her anymore. She liked iceberg lettuce. She did not want to be confused with a chef. She was a champion of home cooking. She drove a Jaguar.
She was rad.
My new range was delivered on Friday and I wanted christen it with a Marion Cunningham recipe, as a non-religious blessing of sorts…magical spell? I chose a recipe that I had made before, because you can’t take any chances when something is supposed to be magic. I made her ginger muffins, which I think pretty perfectly represent her: unfussy, delicious, and nurturing. They are best warm from the oven. They don’t need to be explained any further.
Ginger Muffins (adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham)
3 oz (or even a little more) piece of unpeeled ginger root, cleaned well
3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. sugar, divided
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin tin.
Cut the unpeeled ginger root into large chunks. If you have a food processor, process the ginger until it is in tiny pieces; alternatively, mince by hand. Measure out 1/3 cup – or a little more. As Marion says, it’s better to have too much than too little. Put the ginger and 1/4 cup sugar in a small skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has melted and the mixture is hot. This will only take a minute or two. Set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers to release the oils. Add the lemon sugar to the ginger mixture.
Put the butter and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or, a mixing bowl, if you plan to use handheld beaters or mix by hand) and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, and beat well. Add the buttermilk, and beat until blended. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, and beat just until smooth. Add the ginger-lemon mixture, and beat to mix well. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Serve warm!
Yield: 12 muffins