One of the oldest cookies is the jumbal. It’s a crunchy cookie that can be shaped like a ring or a pretzel, or any other which way you like. Here is Mary Randolph’s version of it from her 1838 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife.”
This cookie does not seemed to have made into my cookbooks covering general American cookery, like the classic, The Joy of Cooking by Irma von Starkloff Rombauer(b. 1877, d. 1962), which first came out in 1931. I also didn’t find it in my trusty 1988 The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. The Good Housekeeping magazine on which the cookbook is based has been around since 1885. Jumbals appear to date back to the Middle Ages. Recipes can for them can be found in English cookbooks for a few centuries, which then made their way into Early American cookbooks. They can be shaped in various way, such as ring shaped or S-shaped. Actually, after making this a few times, I found a BBC article, authored by none other than the judge from the show, the Great British Bake Off, Paul Hollywood: “Jumble_Biscuits”. The shape used there is based on Celtic Knots. Beautiful!
My guess as to why this type of cookie took a back seat to moist, chewy cookies like my favorite, the chocolate chip cookie, is because it doesn’t wow the taste buds with that sugary buttery mix that we now crave. I think Jumbals are still a winner. Given all of the news regarding the health risks surrounding the average American diet, this is a cookie that you needn’t feel too guilty about eating. An added plus for me was that my kids love them.
Surprisingly, the dough is easy enough to make. It’s almost like making pastry dough, but it more easily came together into a nice, non-sticky ball. Then you take about a tablespoon of the dough and roll it into a rope.
Instead of sticking to a ring shape, I tried my hand at a couple of other shapes–though not so bold as to try a Celtic knot! I noticed that I had to work relatively fast to make my ropes and shape the cookies, because the dough started to dry out, making it hard to handle and shape.
I painted an egg wash on the cookies and sprinkle them with colored sugar, though that was definitely not in the original recipe. I couldn’t resist sprucing them up a bit. Here they are in the oven.
And here they are out of the oven. They stayed light colored, probably because I used an egg white wash instead of the whole egg. I suspect either type of egg wash would work just fine.
I highly recommend giving this classic cookie a try. It is crisp, not too sweet, and a tasty piece of history! If you are looking for another source of information regarding the history of this cookie, check out the Jumbal article written by food historian, Joyce White– Jumbals: A Favorite Tea Cake. You’ll find several surprisingly different recipes for Jumbals. Another source of information can be found at The Vintage Cake Spot: Bosworth Jumbals.