Not all Minnesotans realize that their state has an official muffin, let alone that said muffin is a blueberry muffin.
But anyone reading Taste in the late 1980s would have been well-versed on the subject.
(Taste debuted in the Minneapolis Star on Oct. 1, 1969 — it was one of the country’s first newspaper food sections — and to mark this 50th anniversary year, we are occasionally digging into its 2,500-plus past issues.)
Let’s head to June 1, 1988, and a cover story titled “The Minnesota Muffin.”
Writer (and now Taste editor) Lee Svitak Dean noted that the effort to enshrine the blueberry muffin began a year earlier when Carolyn Schroeder, a teacher at South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton, Minn., introduced her second-graders to the topic of state symbols.
As in: the loon (state bird), the walleye (state fish), the pink lady’s slipper (state flower), the Lake Superior agate (state gemstone) and the Norway pine (state tree).
When Schroeder shared an article in Scholastic News magazine that outlined how a third-grade class in Massachusetts had recently lobbied successfully for the corn muffin as a state symbol, the ultimate in extra-credit social studies projects began to percolate.
First up? Zeroing in on the variety of muffin. Because blueberries are prolific in that northern part of the state — Carlton is just west of Duluth — Schroeder’s students landed on the blueberry muffin.
Their campaign eventually included a field trip south to the State Capitol, where the students, obviously well-versed in the powers of persuasion, handed out blueberry muffins to legislators. In a moment of affectionate bipartisanship, members of the House of Representatives gave the lobbyists-in-training a standing ovation. Gov. Rudy Perpich signed the bill into law on April 27, 1988.
At the time, the whole food-as-state-symbol trend was growing in popularity. That same year, Oklahoma embraced an entire official state meal: barbecue pork, fried okra, squash, cornbread, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, black-eyed peas, chicken-fried steak, strawberries and pecan pie.
Since then, desserts, reflecting the Great American Sweet Tooth, have become increasingly popular, including peach cobbler (Texas), kringle (Wisconsin), kuchen (South Dakota), Whoopie pie (Maine), Smith Island Cake (Maryland) and pumpkin pie (Illinois).
In 2006, Minnesota adopted the Honeycrisp apple as the official state fruit.
In that 1988 Taste story, Dean noted that while the Legislature placed its imprimatur upon the blueberry muffin, there was no decree regarding a state-sanctioned recipe.
Naturally, she asked Taste readers to share their favorite recipes. More than 300 responded.
“We now have what could be turned into the consummate blueberry muffin cookbook,” she wrote. “Most included letters that mentioned, ‘This has been a family favorite for years.’ ”
Nine were selected for publication (find them at startribune.com/taste), and they really run the gamut.
“What was as surprising as the number of recipes was the variety in the recipes,” added Dean, rattling off some of the more offbeat ingredients that were incorporated into blueberry muffin formulas, including pumpkin purée, wild rice, vanilla ice cream, barley flour and wheat germ. Yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk made frequent appearances, as did cornmeal and oats.
The story also noted that not everyone endorsed the choice of the blueberry muffin. A typical response came from Pat Larson of Brooks, Minn.
“Had anyone asked me, I certainly would have voted for the rhubarb muffin,” she wrote. “Rhubarb is so Minnesota. It survives the long cold winter and is there to greet us early in the spring with that distinctive taste that harks us back to all the springtimes of our lives.”
To create our Taste 50th anniversary version of the blueberry muffin, we began by incorporating ingredients and techniques from many of these 1988 recipes. From there, we borrowed elements from several contemporary sources, then tested and retested until we had what we believe are the Best Blueberry Muffins.
Those enterprising South Terrace Elementary School students are now in their late 30s. We hope they approve of our efforts. We certainly appreciate theirs.