Like the center of a labyrinth, we circled it, perambulating along a leyline whose course was never constant. Through time and space we followed the signs, hoping that this time, they would guide us to our destination. Were we thwarted? Yes — too many times. We began to give up hope; we began to reconcile ourselves to the idea that we would never tell our descendants of our successful venture. But at last, after many attempts, we found what we sought. We entered into the place of healing, passed through its sunlit atrium, and received our bounty.
We had found the Mormon Muffin.
I am a sucker for low-stakes hyperbole. During my recent trip to Ogden, Utah, I found myself entranced by a slogan written on the side of a green and white building: “WORLD FAMOUS MORMON MUFFINS.” The slogan was accompanied by an image of two silhouettes pulling a cart that held a singular enormous muffin.
I had not heard of these muffins before, nor of their obvious significance to history as a heavy burden during the Mormon colonization of Utah, but from the moment I saw the sign the thought of the muffins monopolized my inner monologue. What was it, exactly, that makes these muffins “Mormon” when others are not? What is the definition of “world-famous” here? Are they known on every continent? These thoughts continued as I turned to the environs in which the muffins were to be acquired. The muffins came from a restaurant, the Greenery, which was either inside of, or next to, a gift shop called Rainbow Gardens. Rainbow Gardens advertised itself on the sign by the road as “Utah’s largest gift store,” but then the sign on the building claimed it was “Western Utah’s Largest Gift Emporium.” Had it lost its status? Had some souvenir-selling rival risen in the east, threatening Rainbow Gardens’ dominance of the Utahn trinket economy?
Despite the fact that we were at the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park, a delightful place full of enormous dinosaur replicas painted in unlikely colors, I would not shut up about the Mormon Muffins. To my companion, I apologize for my insufferability – I cannot help my obsessions.
We came near to Rainbow Gardens several times while we were in Ogden, passing by on our way up into the Cache National Forest and its towns with names like “Nordic Valley” and “Wolf Creek” that seemed to mainly consist of vacation homes for skiers. Yet despite several attempts, we never managed to arrive at the restaurant while it was open. It kept strange hours: despite being world-famous for muffins, the Greenery does not open for breakfast. On the Friday of our week in Ogden, we finally arranged our schedule to stop in at the Greenery for lunch. The restaurant, along with the gift shop, a small art gallery, and a now-closed fabric store, are part of a complex that used to be a sanitarium built around a mineral spring – the old swimming pool is now a terraced garden, and the restaurant sits under an atrium that still has the appearance of a health spa.
We sat down under the glass skylights, taking off our masks to eat inside a restaurant for the first time in many months. While I feigned interest in the menu — I ordered a turkey sandwich — the real prize was finally in sight: a box of six of the world-famous Mormon Muffins, served with a quantity of indeterminately famous honey butter and packed in a cardboard box that matched the green and white color scheme of the restaurant. As soon as the server came to our table, I put in the order.
Now I would learn the secret. Now I would discover the truth. The legend of the muffins had preceded them; I would now become an initiate into their mysteries.
The server returned with the cardboard box and a plate of six muffins upon it. I seized one, spread the viscous honey butter over its crust, and bit into it, this quick bread with a long history.
It was bran.
On Beltane, I found myself thinking about the Mormon Muffins while standing in my kitchen, looking out at my back yard in the midday light. I was stirring together the batter for a set of strawberry muffins for the altar. There isn’t much to a muffin – some wet ingredients, some dry. But I had not had a ritual together with my family in months, not since last summer, and as I put my muffins in the oven, I realized that much of what I had missed over the past year was the tactile connection of sharing food and drink with the people I love.
In the hallway of the Greenery, there is a 2013 article from the Salt Lake Tribune about the Mormon Muffins hanging on the wall. According to the article, the muffins received their name because the restaurant’s owner meant them to taste like the muffins made by a Mrs. Parker, who took care of his great-grandmother. “Mrs. Parker was a very good Mormon,” he says in the article, “and my nana was a very good Mormon and they did this right across the street from the stone [LDS] church.” He added that he was told the recipe was part of Mrs. Parker’s “family heritage.”
All of which is to say that the muffins were not Mormon because they were blessed in a Mormon church, or because they are an integral part of a service, but because the recipe came from a Mormon woman who shared her cooking with others in her church. When we talk about religion, we usually talk about beliefs, or rituals, or mythologies. But religion is just as much about the culture and the community we build together – the songs we sing, the stories we tell, the food we share with one another. I had missed those things terribly over the past year. While things are still certainly not back to “normal,” whatever “normal” is, the fact that I could share a muffin with members of my coven again felt like the most miraculous thing I could imagine.
I took my muffins out of the oven and popped them out of the pan to cool. There was not much in them, I knew; some wet ingredients, some dry, a few cups of chopped strawberries. But they seemed to have the entire future baked inside.
Interested readers can find the recipe for the Mormon Muffins here.