The Mix I Mastered

By Lisa Yockelson
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The tidy little box in white, blue and red beckoned from the grocery shelf. And not in a tempting way. The name, announced in capital letters and embraced in a set of quotes as "Jiffy®" -- with the words "corn muffin mix" below -- were illustrated by nothing more than a photograph of one whole muffin and one split muffin graced with a single pat of butter. These are not winner-of-a-beauty-contest muffins.

A basic, no-nonsense description of what you need to get from box to table -- "add egg and milk" -- failed at first glance to seduce. What's more, the product announced itself as "America's Favorite."

What? Did I miss that contest?

Yet Jiffy's plain-spoken, vaguely retro appeal taunted me week after week as I sped through the baking aisle, moving the requisite flour, sugar, leavening and spices from shelf to cart. Such a precious little box, only 3 inches wide and 5 1/2 inches high, priced at 49 cents. That's less than two quarters for the promise of six to eight muffins, or 10 to 12 pancakes, or one 8-inch johnnycake, or three 7-inch waffles.

But I am probably the hardest sell -- ever -- that the little 8.5-ounce box has endured since Michigan's Chelsea Milling Co. introduced it in 1950, 20 years after Mabel Holmes invented the company's original all-purpose baking mix. Others embrace convenience, but I am not a from-a-mix sort of baker.

Still, I was eventually overcome by curiosity. I slunk into the store late on a balmy Monday evening and bought two boxes with what I imagine to be the same fear as that of being caught in a midnight tryst. With cash in hand to avoid providing any type of identification, I paid for and checked out two boxes of Jiffy myself, triple-bagged them and walked briskly to the car. I stashed the boxes in a remote part of my pantry. Out of sight. Never purchased. Right.

The boxes went unopened for months. After all, I was creating my own tender, corn-infused baked goods: breads, muffins, biscuits, scones, waffles. Is there any competition for homemade? Then came the dream: Clad in a fluttery white gown, my late mother (who banned mixes of any sort from the kitchen) chastised me from her deathbed for buying the Jiffy. Lovely: Now a curse was attached to the purchase.

Weeks passed. A surplus of gorgeous blueberries picked on a steamy July afternoon somehow tamed that haunting middle-of-the-night episode, and I unearthed those boxes from the cupboard. My thought process went something like this:

1. Too many blueberries.

2. Not a crumb of anything baked and breakfast-y in sight (a rarity).

3. Weekend guests arriving in four hours.

4. Open both boxes, double the recipe, add blueberries to mix, bake in deep cylindrical muffin pans.

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