Recipe Review: Blackberry Muffins (2003) by Beth Hensperger

A summer berry muffin ready to eat.

A blackberry muffin.

“‘You’re out and about so much more these days,’ said Cecil. ‘Why don’t you join us on Blackberry Night?’

This was his great idea? ‘You’re mad!’

Good girls didn’t romp about on Blackberry Night. Father has strong opinions about it. His biggest, fattest sermon of the year is all about Blackberry Night, which is also Michaelmas, when is also when Archangel hurled the Devil from Heaven. Naturally, this annoyed the Devil considerably, and goes about on that night spoiling the blackberries.

‘I’ll protect you,’ said Cecil, laying his hand over mine.

I whipped my hand away. ‘Cecil!’

On Blackberry Night, the lads and lasses run barefoot through the swamp, pretending to try to catch the Devil; but it would appear the Devil catches them instead, for they consume quantities of beer and wine, and they shed their clothes, and there are always a number of surprise weddings come Advent.”

From Chapter 16 – The Party’s Always Over at Midnight, from Chime (2011) by Franny Billingsley

This is the legend as I understand it. At the end of the battle of who would rule Heaven, Archangel Michael pushed the then-angel Lucifer one final time and Lucifer fell all the way to Earth and landed in a bramble patch. The bramble patch was full of thorns and blackberries. Lucifer, already furious at losing his access to Heaven and God, thrashed his way out of the brambles, cursing the thorny vines and staining berries as he went. So, no one is to pick blackberries after Michaelmas, because the Devil cursed them. This victory by Archangel Michael and his band of angels is one of the events celebrated at Michaelmas, a traditional Roman Catholic Church holiday adapted by the British Isle Anglican Church. When Michaelmas is to occur seems to depend on who you are talking to or reading. Some would have it be September 29, the traditional “quarter day” when rents were due. Others would have you wait until October 10 or 11. I understand a more modern celebration of Michaelmas has been pushed up to the Autumn Equinox, September 21.

Michaelmas was in some sense a traditional second harvest festival, or a thanksgiving celebration. The harvests were all in, whatever was required had been sold to pay the rent, and the first frost historically could be expected any day towards the end of September. Blackberries would have been in abundance, and hard to preserve outside of jellies or jams, so they would need to be used as picked. Stories about the food served at any holiday can define a culture, so blackberry dishes and associated stories around Michaelmas would help define the local traditions and culture.

Blackberry muffins are tasty year round thanks to freezers. I was reading about Michaelmas, a much mentioned calendar date in Regency and historical romance novels – Mr. Bingley of Austin’s Pride and Prejudice was to decide to keep or release his lease of Netherfield Park by Michalemas – and thought blackberry muffins sounded good. I went to my trusty cookbooks and did not find a recipe. So I went online and found a promising looking recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website. I have seen Williams-Sonoma ceramic mixing bowls, usually chipped, in junk stores. What told me this was the recipe to use was it was designed by Beth Hensperger for the Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Muffins (2003). I do not think Hensperger has ever developed a bad muffin recipe.

I used a frozen three-berry mix of blackberries, blueberries, and red raspberries. This worked fine. Following the recipe was simple. The recipe called for maintaining the structure of the berries. The berries only need to be stirred three times after adding to the batter. This keeps the white quick bread white. I prefer to mash part of the berries up and swirl within the batter. When I make this recipe again I will mash all the berries so there are no empty spaces within the muffin where the berry has cooked then collapsed. Mashing the berries is my preference for an everyday muffin. Keeping the berries whole looks pretty and would work for a holiday brunch or breakfast.

I like the pecan crumb top to the muffins. The crumb topping adds sweetness and finger-licking goodness to your breakfast. Even though the muffins do not need the crumb topping, I encourage you to keep it.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

Another reason to incorporate mashed berries into the batter is it keeps the muffins from sticking to a well-greased and floured muffin tin. I was not expecting the problem of removing the muffins from the pans. I had to leave the muffins in pan until the next morning after the muffin pan spent the night in the refrigerator. I dislike using paper cups because I just do. For this recipe I would recommend silicon muffin baking dishes or decorative muffin paper cups, if you have them. The biggest problem was the muffins sticking to the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan they did not want to leave.

I will be making this recipe again. I will be using the crumb topping in recipes that do not call for it. This is a fun recipe to make for family because the finished muffin is pretty as well as tasty.

The recipe is located online at:

Chime by Franny Billingsley was a finalist for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (US) in 2011. It is a beautifully written, if slow at times, “growing up” story. The protagonist “came of age” before the book started, I think. I cannot tell you the “coming of age” backstory without spoiling the a gorgeously written book. In the first scene she is presented at the train station by her village pastor father as a child, but she does not have a child’s “voice”. By the end of the story she has grown into that adult voice we met in the first chapter. Check Chime out from your favorite public library, or purchase it from a local bookstore, or from your favorite online retailor.

In Addition: Besides the story of the Devil falling into the bramble, stories also include Pan and other satyrs fouling the berry vines after Michaelmas.

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