Martha and the muffins

By Marilyn Smulders - October 23, 2008

Ingredients: Ingenuity, family recipes, legwork

Method: Create publishing company and republish grandmother’s recipe book. Add in new graphics and low-fat suggestions. Approach gift shops and bookstores to sell books. Recipe can be doubled, tripled or quadrupled if necessary.  

Martha Prange in her kitchen. (Danny Abriel Photo)

Twenty-six years ago, sisters and best friends Cathy Prange and Joan Pauli came up with a winning recipe for success. After much urging from family and friends, the homemakers from Kitchener, Ont. published 60 of their favorite muffin recipes in a book they called Muffin Mania.

The cookbook was well named—it became a self-publishing phenomenon, selling out its first run of 2,000 copies in the first month of release. Picked up and reprinted by a larger publisher, the book went on to sell more than 500,000 copies. And the mania continued; Muffin Mania led to Nibble Mania, a cookbook of appetizers, then Veggie Mania and Sweet Mania, a collection of favorite dessert recipes.

Now long since out of print, Muffin Mania sells on eBay and Amazon for more than $100. Cathy Prange’s family regularly hears from customers who’d love a new copy: they can no longer read their dog-eared, batter-stained originals; they mislaid or mistakenly gave it away; their new puppy destroyed it after licking all the pages.

Twenty-one-year-old Martha Prange grew up with her grandmother’s muffin celebrity, as well as the recipes: the cranberry muffins that were a Christmas morning tradition and the “Best Ever Banana” muffins that her mom would put frozen in her lunches for school—by noon-time they were perfectly thawed and the envy of the cafeteria.

“When I was in Grade 6, I did a project on my grandma for home economics,” says Martha, in the fourth-year of her commerce degree at Dalhousie. “She was famous!”

And now Martha is doing another project involving her grandmother’s recipes. (Great aunt Joan died in 1992.) For the entrepreneurial class New Venture Creation (COMM 3307) taught by Ed Leach, she created her own publishing company, Binding Brilliance, and added her own spin on Muffin Mania by including stories, low-fat tips and suggestions for alternate ingredients. She enlisted friends Cory Woods, also a Dalhousie commerce student, to do photography, and graphic artist Meredith McRae to design the book.

The new Muffin Mania went to print at the end of August and is already in its second run. Martha has been approaching gift shops and book stores to carry the book, including Chapters, which has agreed to a first order of 500 copies.

“Back then (in 1982), muffins were kind of new,” she muses. “But now they have a retro appeal. It’s a small book and seems out of place with all the other cookbooks by celebrity chefs, but it has a nice story behind it and people like it.”

Martha says she loved seeing the entire project through, from coming up with a name for her company to getting the bar code for the back of the book. She’s now casting an eye at the other books in the Mania series or perhaps creating an entire new cookbook with recipes geared to students.

But the best part, she says, has been spending time with her grandmother, who at age 77 is out pitching cookbooks to stores in the Kitchener area once again. At the launch party in August, she gave Martha the aprons she and her sister Joan wore and a locket containing their picture. “It’s brought us closer to spend so much time together.”

Muffin Mania ($17.80 + $4 shipping and handling) is available by mail. Write: Binding Brilliance Publishing, 1354 Queen St., Unit 1, Halifax, N.S. B3J 2H5. Or check out the website, muffinmania.ca.

Best Ever Banana Muffins

This is one of the Prange family’s favourites. Martha suggests adding a cup of chocolate chips to the batter.

2 cups mashed banana (about 5)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, mash bananas. Stir in sugar and egg. Add melted butter. Stir in baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour to make a thick batter.

Fill each cup of a 12-cup muffin tin about three-quarters full. Bake in a 375F oven for 20 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.


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