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John Pupek, at his Brockton bakery, has been baking the popular Jordan Marsh muffins since 1961.
John Pupek, at his Brockton bakery, has been baking the popular Jordan Marsh muffins since 1961. (Globe Photo / Robert E. Klein)

A farewell to the muffin man

As Jordan Marsh baker closes shop, an era ends

For decades, any decent downtown shopping trip ended at Jordan Marsh, where the promise of a sugar-crusted blueberry muffin could make annoying children angelic. Baker John Pupek followed the secret recipe one batch at a time, folding in the berries by hand to keep them whole and working the batter until the consistency felt just right.

Pupek opened his own shop after Jordan Marsh closed its bakeries and Macy's bought the department store in the mid-1990s. His Jordan Marsh Muffin Co. in Brockton has turned out thousands of blueberry muffins a week, as well as other delicacies made famous by Jordan Marsh, since 1998.

But on Christmas Eve, the muffin-maker closed his store. The iconic muffins, like Jordan Marsh itself, will become a fading memory.

''We'll replace them with something else, but it will never be the same. It's the end of an era -- like when they stopped making Oldsmobiles," said Morton Glovin, who sells the muffins that he savored in childhood at his two Boston Coffee Exchange locations.

Exhausted by days that start at 2 a.m. and don't end until well into the afternoon, Pupek, 62, notified his customers and suppliers earlier this month that ''it is time to hang up the apron and shut off the mixer and oven." He wants to relax after decades of taxing physical labor and surgery on both hands for carpal tunnel syndrome that developed after years of plopping blueberries into batter.

''I love what I do, but it's very labor intensive," said Pupek, who began baking at Jordan Marsh in 1961. ''The back, the feet, and the arms -- I have to start relaxing the body and enjoy life right now. I don't want to be here 24/7."

The shop closed this past Friday night; the wholesale operation, which sells to small shops and restaurants around the region, will close this Friday. Pupek said he will travel, and maybe get a job driving a limousine. His daughter, Christine, his partner since the shop opened, is not interested in taking over the business -- she wants to spend more time at home with her children, he said.

In an age of mass production, Pupek's approach is as nostalgic as the muffins themselves. He has routinely delivered muffins to retail customers' homes, dropping them on their doorsteps at 4 a.m.

Since the letter went out, panicky customers have been stockpiling their favorites, figuring they can freeze them, give them as holiday gifts, or simply gorge.

''When I got that note last Wednesday, I stood in my coffee bar and said this is an absolutely traumatic day for me," said Glovin.

Recently, at Pupek's shop, a Milton man bought 33 dozen almond macaroons; another customer ordered six dozen muffins and piles of brownies, also a Jordan Marsh specialty. The customers waxed nostalgic, Pupek said, tearfully thanking him for the confections, particularly the muffins, which evoke emotional responses even from out-of-towners.

Judith Hagan of Foxborough discovered the muffin when she arrived at Boston College from Cleveland in the 1960s. ''My boyfriend's mother would take the trolley, buy the muffins, and give them to him to give to me," she said. ''He'd come over for a date and bring the muffins. I'd tell him if he didn't have the muffins, don't bother coming.

''Nobody could make them as good as Jordan's. It was a love affair. I lived with six or seven roommates and [the muffins] seemed so huge, we'd cut them in half. They had that incredible sugar crunchy coating on the top. The blueberries were so soft and fresh -- you felt like the guy just went out and picked them," she said.

Susan Elsbree, who works as a spokeswoman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said she recently rediscovered the muffins when an outside vendor brought them to City Hall.

''I can literally remember walking down the stairs of Jordan's," said Elsbree, who grew up in Brookline. ''When you turned the corner, on the right side was the bakery. You had to stop to get a blueberry muffin, with the sugar on top. In my opinion, they didn't sell anything else."

After this month, aficionados of the Jordan Marsh muffins will have few options. The only place that will sell them is Macy's in Portland, Maine, where Pupek's former co-worker leases the bakery and bakes muffins from frozen batter that Pupek sells her.

He said he will continue to make her batter from time to time.

But he said he will never sell the Jordan Marsh muffin name, which he said people now identify with him.

''People want me to show somebody else how to make the muffins," said Pupek, ''but I can look at a finished muffin and know who made it. It's in the feel and the eye. I'll show them how to make muffins, but I won't put my name on it. That name is me.

''If people said they had a Jordan Marsh muffin and it was horrible, it would kill me."

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