So, I'm a bit of a remedial at cooking. Living history has taught me how to experiment in cooking - you have to take recipes that are often cryptic, which use different ingredients than we do, with different techniques. Cooking and food science changed in the 1880s with Fanny Farmer and the advent of home economics, so to cook like a woman from the 1860s, you have to rethink everything you know about cooking. Since I don't know much except what I've learned from experience, this is actually an advantage for me!
I have a few standard recipes that I can do - orange cake, shortbread, some quick breads, and a really simple potato salad recipe from Mrs. Beeton. I try to conquer a new recipe every now and then, and for an event next weekend, I decided I wanted to make jumbles.
Jumbles are a period cookie. There are some, according to my brief Google search, who believe that jumbles may be the first cookie to make it to America, perhaps even to Jamestown. According to our friend Wikipedia they originated in the Middle East or the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages as a treat that kept well and could be taken on the road by travelers. They are easy to make, don't require too many ingredients, and thus are relatively inexpensive.
So, I set out to try them. I searched Google Books for recipes. I found recipes in The Virginia Housewife (1831), Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery (1860), and more. Pretty much every big-name recipe book of the 19th century has some variation on them. I decided to go with the recipes in Elizabeth Lea's Domestic Cookery (1859), because she gives very clear directions and has several different recipes. I went with the "Common Jumbles", for which she has this to say:
"Take a pound of flour, half a pound of butter, and three-quarters of sugar, three eggs, a little nutmeg, and rose brandy. Mix the butter and sugar together, and add the flour and eggs; mold them in rings, and bake them slowly."So that's it. Pretty straightforward, for a period recipe - so many early recipes rely on comparisons, such as "a piece of butter the size of an egg", relying on the cook's knowledge and experience. I pulled out my scale and measured out the ingredients. I threw in some seasonings based on what I knew would probably make a good taste - in this case, cinnamon and nutmeg. I added the cinnamon because I did not have any rose brandy (another adventure for another day) and other jumble recipes in the book called for cinnamon and nutmeg. So like a good housewife, I made do with what I had.
|Dry ingredients on the left, wet ingredients on the right|
I chose to use three eggs - there are some who say that period chicken eggs were smaller than the eggs we have today, but instead of cutting out some of the egg I decided to chance it and add more flour if need be. Surprisingly, the dough turned out pretty well - maybe a little sticky, but no real need for more flour. I took a tablespoon of the dough, rolled it into a ball, and then rolled that ball into a long strand of dough on the counter. After that, I looped them around and pinched the ends to make a ring.
|Rolling it out...|
|...forming a ring. Other fancier twists could be used.|
|After baking! They don't get very dark on top - you basically have to trust your nose.|
So here is my translated recipe, for you! (Also for me so that I don't forget it next time.) I use a scale for measuring out ingredients, so if you're used to the cup measurements, you'll have to do your own translating (a pound of flour usually equals about 3 1/2 or 4 cups).
1 lb flour (I used unbleached)
2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 lb sugar (I used plain white sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
Heaping 1/2 tsp nutmeg, or to taste (I really like nutmeg, but others may like less of it)
Cream butter and sugar together, add eggs. Mix in flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pinch off dough by the tablespoon, form into balls, then roll into long strands and form into rings by pinching the ends. Put the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 for 14 to 16 minutes; watch closely in the last few minutes to prevent burning.
(A brief note: After I posted a picture of the jumbles on Facebook, there was a hue and cry for information, so I was spurred on to write this up real quick-like and post it. Just goes to show you - I love knowing that people out there are reading this and want more. It's very touching! Hope you all stick around and comment!)