Muffins – a short history

After perusing my fellow TAO crewmember Vegar’s blog recently I thought perhaps his historical interest would be piqued by research by Professor Bruce Ambrosius McFoster of the University of Woolamaloo’s Department of Arcane Historical Facts.

It is well-know that Vegar’s ancestor’s, the Vikings, were, when not busy pillaging coastal communities, outstanding sailors, explorers and traders. They travelled vast distances – as far as the Mediterranean – making the sea truly the super-highway of the time, carrying both goods and ideas. Or in some cases both.

The new research showed that a group of Viking traders were once blown off course from what is now the French Mediterranean coast and were forced to the shores of North Africa. Never ones to miss a chance to turn mishap into opportunity, the Vikings soon found new goods to trade for in the soukhs of North Africa. While recuperating there, they found a local foodstuff which these hairy-bottomed Norsemen enjoyed immensely; a small cake, sweet and filling, with enough calories for an entire afternoon’s pillaging. Being unable to wrap their rough-bearded mouths around the soft-syllabled name the locals gave the delicacy they named it after the market where they first found it: mhou-a-fian, which, in the language of the time meant ‘There is no God but Allah, but a good cake comes a close second’.

The returning Vikings brought back both samples of the cake and the recipe with them from their trip. They introduced it first to the south of France, where it became know as ‘la mouaffine’, which roughly translates as ‘those pesky Arabs are Godless creatures but they make a bloody good cake’. Travelling the sea highways of the Dragon Ships and the slower rural rutted roads of Europe the idea spread slowly over the succeeding years. By the time of the Enlightenment coffee shops were de rigeur and Samuel Pepys and Daniel Waterhosue were often to be seen supping the devilish brew from the New World while eating the perfect accompiniment to it, ye Muffine. A trend had been set which continues to this day.

This much the Professor has uncovered with his diligent research which has taken him to cake and pastry shops on four continents. His last point is, admittedly, only conjecture however: he believes that the Norse expeditions to Vindland, or what we now know of as the new World, were actually a deliberate attempt to find coffee beans to have with their pastries. Many brave Vikings died in this noble quest. Sadly the Professor is now added to this list since his overly-diligent research has taken a toll on his health. The stress and strain of years of hard academic detective work, the ridicule by some of his peers (who support the competing fairy cake hypothesis) and thousands of miles of travel all conspired to destroy the man’s health as he pursued his dream of knowledge. Well, that and heart failure brought on by eating 652,419 muffins and associated cakes, all accompanied by coffee. Farewell, professor – we honour your name and your commitment to academic truth and the advancement of human knowledge (and waistlines).

So next time you enjoy a muffin, pause and think about the unlikely confluence of historical accidents, inter-cultural exchanges and linguistic borrowing which brought us to the modern muffin.

Next week Doctor Hagar from the University of Woolamaloo’s Department of Historical bearded People explains his new hypothesis that Norse culture was not broken by the advancement of Christianity, like Imperial Rome, but because the Norse raiders became too porky on a diet of seal blubber, mead and muffins to go raiding anymore.

And now we shall speak no more of this subject since poor Vegar has been taking a fair bit of stick over itand has been a good sport :-). And he’s spot on in his new piece on the blurb on books cover – and yes, it is very nice when you see quotes from one of your own reviews being used on the cover to help sell a book by a writer you really enjoyed. And since the TAO crew do it for the love of it rather than for cash, it is nice to know we do perhaps make some difference.