On Muffins

This past week, I witnessed an absolutely ridiculous attack on American writers (specifically) of Regency-set romances. A couple of English people declared that American writers as a whole simply didn’t know what they hell we were talking about and maybe we should visit England to gain a clue. What was their proof? Muffins. Americans keep putting MUFFINS in their books and no one in England has ever heard of a muffin, English or otherwise. These are not a thing. English people do not eat them. Never have. Never will.

When I responded that they were good enough for Jane Austen and Hannah Glasse, I got blocked.

English muffins, being cooked by me.

So, in case any of you need it, here is my Defense of Muffins in Georgian Fiction:

Firstly, here is the infamous Muffin Man himself, hawking his wears way back in the 1750s.

London Cries: A Muffin Man by Paul Sandby (c. 1759)

Oh, what is this? Is this the famous author Samuel Richardson writing of an Englishman eating muffins for breakfast? Clearly this cannot be…

The History of Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson, 1765

What do I spy with my little eye? Why it’s a record of the cries of the street vendors of London in 1777. What are they hawking? Muffins!

A Set of London Cries, 1777

Whatever can this be? Is it a political poem about Fox and Pitt involving toasted, buttered muffins? How un-English can you get!

A political ditty, 1803

Oh, look. Even that scallywag David Garrick is in on hoodwinking poor Americans into thinking muffins existed.

The Guardian by Garrick, 1805

The rhyme that you are all probably familiar with, recorded in a manuscript c. 1820.

Clearly one can not trust a book entirely devoted to the baking of bread! What rapscallion time travelled back and inserted an entire second on the anachronistic muffin?

A Treatise on the Art of Making Good and Wholesome Bread, 1821

How dare Maria Edgeworth write characters who love muffins! Surely this must be a mistranslation (from English into English!).

Maria Edgeworth, Early Lessons, 1825

I don’t know who this “Lady” is, but clearly she is not to be trusted as her domestic guide includes fake things like muffins. Muffins which no Englishman has ever heard of, let alone eaten.

The New London Cookery and Complete Domestic Guide, by A Lady, 1827

I am trying to determine when the English went off the muffin, leaving themselves with only the crumpet for comfort. Oscar Wilde features them in his work. So do P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers. In fact, they appear to have been Lord Peter’s favorite food.

One of MANY mentions of muffins in the Lord Peter Wimsey books.

My food history friends blame the depredations of WWII. Rationing has much to answer for when it comes to British cookery. Whatever the reason for the disappearance of muffins in the UK (at least according to Hawt Take UK Twitter), please rest assured that they were beloved and clearly being consumed at least up until WWII.

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Joanna Waugh
5 months ago

Way to go, Isobel!!

Louisa Cornell
5 months ago

HUZZAH!! Give ’em hell, Isobel !! I LOVE this!

Madelynne Ellis
5 months ago

They are still consumed regularly in the UK, and are available in all major supermarkets.

5 months ago

I had a real muffin when I was very small, maybe mid-1950s in England. It was like a larger, flatter crumpet, and crumpets were much more commonly eaten as a teatime treat. I suspect it was bought to be heated, not cooked, at home.

Penny Hampson
5 months ago

I think the problem is that today when we speak of muffins in the UK it means the sponge cake type of confection, not the original bread-like product. So that is what many readers in the UK might be imagining when they see the word ‘muffins’. The cake type muffins were unknown here until fairly recently (within the last 20 years or so). The original muffins weren’t something that were widely available to buy; I think they might have been more a regional speciality. Even in high end bakers today, one rarely finds the original muffin.

4 months ago

The English have not gone off muffins. At all. You can get them in every supermarket, along with butter to put on them.

Also, crumpets and pikelets (which can be each other depending on where you are) and oatcakes (which are totally different depending on whether you are in Staffordshire or Scotland, and in neither place is it a cake).