Do YOU Know the Muffin Man?

I have a hodgepodge of baked goods on the kitchen counter right now. A loaf of sourdough sliced and ready for sandwiches. Brioche buns to cradle the bratwurst I barbecued over the weekend. Angel food cake for dessert topped with berries and whipped cream. And tortillas (which, okay, are “fried goods”) by the bagful. But we’re not done here. There’s one more option, one where my starchy carb willpower goes flying out the window. English muffins.

Who among us doesn’t love a warm, toasty English muffin?  The little round breakfast breads give us so many reasons to choose them.  They’re delicious, whether with butter, jam, or as an ingredient in Eggs Benedict.  They’re satisfyingly circular.  They’re usually fork-split so they break apart easy for the toaster.  You feel like you get two-for-one instead of a single piece of boring toast.  And as if to boast of their popularity, McDonald’s bakes millions of them into their Egg McMuffins.

Here’s another appeal of English muffins.  They have all those nooks and crannies to secure the melted butter.  You’re familiar with the term “nooks and crannies” (I know you are).  It’s the primary descriptor in Thomas’ English Muffins advertisements.  But you probably don’t know the backstory.  Thomas – as in Samuel Bath Thomas – created the “American” English muffin in 1880, after moving to the United States from England.  He brought with him a griddle-baking process for the muffins, which results in the signature crunchy outside and soft inside.  140 years later, I’m hard-pressed to come up with another manufacturer of English Muffins.  Okay, maybe Bays.  That’s it.

Ironically, English muffins are a more popular breakfast item in North America, Australia, and New Zealand than in England.  But you can’t just call them “muffins”, at least not in America.  Muffins (coming from the German muffen for “little cake”) refer to blueberry or corn or some other muffin with a more specific taste than the sourdough of English.  Not sure about you, but my consumption of English muffins to blueberry or corn is probably 100:1.

Eggs Benedict

You think you “know the muffin man”, but I’ll bet you’re just singing the children’s song (and you’re welcome for getting it stuck in your head).  There really were muffin men, you see, way back in the mid-1800’s.  They’d walk the streets selling their fresh-baked muffins, ringing bells like an ice cream truck.  In Britain there used to be so many muffin men ring-ring-a-ringing, Parliament passed a law to ban the bells.  But people still bought their fresh-baked muffins (at least until houses started getting this new invention called a “stove”).

When Mr. Thomas first sold his muffins in America he called them toaster crumpets, described as a “more elegant alternative to toast” to appeal to finer hotels.  Over time he changed the description to “English muffins” to better serve the masses.  The company bearing his name has been making them ever since, and the griddle-baking approach is the secret to all those nooks and crannies.

Crumpets, aka “English muffin imposters”

While we’re on the subject, let’s settle the debate on crumpets (and scones, for that matter) vs. English muffins.  Crumpets look like English muffins.  They’re about the same size.  But that’s where the similarities end.  Crumpets are only cooked on one side.  They have a milder taste.  And there’s a good explanation for the popularity of English muffins over crumpets in America.  Muffins go better with coffee, which Americans drink a lot more of than tea.  Can’t tell you when I’ve ever seen someone having a crumpet with their coffee.

“The Muffin Man” song includes the lyric, “… who lives on Drury Lane?”  Turns out, Drury Lane is a real street; a thoroughfare bordering Covent Garden in London.  But I prefer to think the Muffin Man lives right here on my street.  The Muffin Man is me, because not a week goes by where I don’t include the English rounds in my breakfast.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

13 thoughts on “Do YOU Know the Muffin Man?”

  1. and just to confuse things a little more: My wife is English, born in the midlands, and did discover the joys of “English Muffins” when she moved to the US in her 20’s. When we got married she talked about the “English version of English Muffins” calling them, “pikelets.” One day she found some “pikelets” at a British food store and brought some home for me to try. I said, “Aren’t these crumpets?”

    “No, crumpets are for the very posh or Scottish. We folk call them pikelets.”

    and she does prefer the American English Muffin to pikelets – don’t get her going on crumpets. Or that song, she’ll sing it all day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Pikelet” sounds like a small fish (not a baked good). But I love the word, as well as your wife’s upturned nose about the crumpets. What little I know about crumpets, I agree with her. They do seem a little posh for us “commoners” here in America.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave – you are teaching us ALL kinds of America food histories. I like English Muffins too. How about Ireland, I need to ask Fran, if they are just about scones/toast or muffins too. Crumpets, have heard of them, but never had one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “S’mores?” Whoa. Pop-Tarts came a long way between my childhood and yours. I only had the choice of brown sugar cinnamon, blueberry, and cherry. Suddenly those sound kinda boring.


  4. It’s probably just my erratic shifting opinions at play, but Thomas’ English Muffins don’t seem as tasty to me as they once did. My wife and I vacation on Cape Cod pretty often. I’ve found two local brands of EMs there that I like better than Thomas’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might have a good topic for a post there, Neil. I’ve noticed the taste change in several products I’ve kept on our pantry shelves. Wheat Thins come to mind (they’re definitely different these days). Oreos. Would be so interesting to compare the product of two decades ago to the one you buy now. No doubt the ingredients have changed… and the size.

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  5. Yep, English Muffins are wonderful and they have to be Thomas’ brand if you’re going to spend all that time carefully prying them apart, toasting them twice to get the perfect crunch, then to dribble butter into those nooks and crannies. Me, the texture eater, who prefers crunch rather than sog for my English Muffins or rustic bread, think they are perfect. I admit I am a bigtime carb lover too. A fellow blogger and I joke about being “Carb Sisters” as we both share a love of rustic bread. I eliminate other fun stuff to eat to have yeasty treats. 🙂


  6. Oh, yes. With melted butter and, if I’m luxuriating, some blackberry jam on top.

    It was an ugly realization for me that as much as I love almost anything baked from flour, those same treats leave me feeling sluggish and listless awhile later. So I have a love-hate relationship with them which usually results in brief bursts of carbofests followed by longer periods of healthier choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you, J P, loud and clear. Starchy carbs = energy deprivation. Like you, muffins and other flour-based treats have been relegated to the “special occasions” section of my eating habits. Kind of like restaurants these days, come to think of it.

      Liked by 1 person

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