While most New Englanders have memories of shopping at Jordan Marsh, the Boston-based department store that peppered the local landscape from the 1860s to the late 1990s, it is Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins you hear about the most.
Muffins from a department store? Actually, that’s not so unusual. Like nearly all grand department stores of the era, the Jordan Marsh flagship store in Boston’s Downtown Crossing housed an on-site cafe, or bakery, that served refreshments to shoppers. No doubt it offered up a variety of tempting, sugary treats, but a certain recipe for blueberry muffins caught on, making the bakery (and the store) famous.
Back in 2012, Yankee ran an essay by Ann Hood titled “Confessions of a Marsha Jordan Girl,” which recalled how New England’s iconic department stores (both Jordan Marsh and Filene’s) offered a taste of elegance and sophistication to 1970s New England teens. She remembered the Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins like this:
“They came all the way from Boston, from the Jordan Marsh bakery. I’d never been to Boston, never been to Jordan Marsh. It loomed large and sparkling in my imagination. I thought it must look like a palace, its floors filled with dazzling mirrors and fancy women spritzing perfume at customers as they passed. We had department stores in Rhode Island, sure—but none that produced muffins the size of those, none the size of Jordan Marsh’s, none that dwelled in a city like Boston.”
In the mid-1990s, after more than 100 years of operation, Jordan Marsh (which also included stores in Florida beginning in the late 1950s) was eventually folded into the Macy’s chain, and the glory days of the enormous Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins ended. Thankfully, the recipe lives on (thanks in large part to reprints from The Boston Globe).
Feeling both inspired and slightly resentful that I’d never had one, despite growing up in Massachusetts, I made a batch this week using Hood’s recipe. Some bakers (like Hood) mash up a portion of the blueberries before adding them to the batter to help give it a purple hue, but I was using frozen berries, and they tend to weep color into the batter no matter what you do, so I skipped that step.
Out of the oven, the muffins were a lovely golden brown and smelled amazing. I patiently waited the hour specified in the recipe before gently loosening one from the tin, and quickly realized why the wait was so critical. These muffins are so loaded that there’s an awful lot of squishy blueberry goodness happening inside, and that doesn’t do the best job of holding the muffin together — especially when it’s hot. I normally dislike using paper wrappers when baking muffins or cupcakes, but for this recipe, they’re worth it.
After all, if you’re going to pay tribute to a famous department store muffin, you might as well go all in, right? You’ve already picked out the dress and the shoes. Why not toss in the hat, gloves, and decorative rhinestone brooch?
Warm and sweet with plump berries and a sugary, slightly-crisp top, these muffins have more than earned their reputation, and I’ll be glad to add them to my muffin repertoire.
Do you remember shopping at Jordan Marsh and enjoying their famous Blueberry Muffins? Ready to bake your own batch?
But wait! There’s more!
“What, no mention of the Jordan Marsh Enchanted Village?” some of you may be thinking.
Along with the muffins, Jordan Marsh was also known for its popular annual Enchanted Village holiday extravaganza. From the 1940s until 1972 (and for a brief period in the 1990s) the Boston flagship store in Downtown Crossing put on a huge Christmas display, sometimes taking up an entire floor of the store, including historic scenes with moving dolls, toy trains, and a visit with Santa. After Jordan Marsh became Macy’s, the village spent a few years at odd locations like City Hall Plaza and the Hynes Convention Center, but the cost to put on the display became too great and all props and figures were auctioned off in 2009. They were sold to the equally locally famous Jordan’s Furniture (no relation), where they remain part of the seasonal display at the store’s Avon, Massachusetts location.This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.