My Lady Chanworths receipt for Jumballs

It’s high time that we talk about jumballs. We were initially mystified by the moniker, but jumballs are a classic early modern treat: A rich, satisfying, highly-spiced, shortbread cookie. They are the single most delicious thing we’ve cooked from the archives to date.

Even a quick search to define the term revealed the jumball’s long-term popularity, from Gervase Markam’s classic English Housewife (1649) to the iconic Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1888), with examples on many other historical cookery sites like this one. The Oxford English Dictionary generalizes among the range of different spices and methods in these various recipes to define early modern jumballs as a “kind of fine sweet cake or biscuit, formerly often made up in the form of rings or rolls.”

In LJS 165 there are two recipes for jumballs back to back: “To Make Jumballs / My Mother Anges receipt” and “My Lady Chanworths receipt for Jumballs.” We thought that the first recipe’s mention of the compiler’s mother (or another source’s mother) was a poignant look into the perennial practice of handing down knowledge from mother to child, most likely mother to daughter. But the final instruction in that first recipe — soaking the baked jumballs in vinegar overnight — was not especially appealing, although it is very likely an excellent method for preserving the biscuits.  Besides, who among us can take delicious cookies out of the oven and not eat them immediately? We decided to prepare the second recipe instead: “My Lady Chanworths receipt for Jumballs.” (If any readers try the alternate recipe, we’d love to hear how it turns out.)

The Recipe

jumballs

My Lady Chanworths receip[t  for] Jumballs

Take one pound of shuger, one pound & a halfe of fflower, two
spoonfull of Carraway seeds, mix them well & a quarter of a sponfull
of Coriander seeds, one pound of Butter melted with 2 spunfulls
of rose water, put to that the yolkes of 4 Eggs beaten
and worke all to a fine paist with a quarter of a pound of Almons
finely beaten worke all these together like bisket roles
and bake it after browne Bread

Like other sweet and savory recipes from the period, this recipe uses fragrant whole caraway and coriander seeds enlivened by aromatic rose water, the richness of egg yolks and butter, and the deep nuttiness of ground almonds. Other than halving the quantities in the recipe (which still made a lot of cookies) we’ve made no changes to the dough mix and simply reformatted the instructions into a modern style below.

Now, there are a wide variety of ways to shape jumball dough before baking. Recipes call for twisting, rolling, slicing, and folding. Given the texture of the jumball dough in a very hot kitchen (summer in Philadelphia) we decided to follow a classic shortbread method and to roll our dough into a long log, slice cookies 1/4 inch thick, and bake them. (If you try this recipe and shape them differently, send us a photo!)

Our Recipe

*Halved from the original. We also used a baking scale for this one, but we’ve included approximate volume measurements.

1/2 lb sugar (1c)
3/4 lb flour (2 3/4 c)
1 t caraway seeds
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 lb butter, melted (2 sticks or 16 T)
1 t rosewater
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/8 lb. ground almonds (generous 1/2 c)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix flour, sugar, and spices in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Add melted butter, rosewater, egg yolks, and ground almonds and mix until a uniform dough forms.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and shape into cookies. We did this by rolling the dough into a log and slicing 1/4 inch cookies, but there are many other ways to shape this kind of dough.

Bake 20 minutes or until brown around the edges. Cool on a rack before devouring, if you have the willpower.

Results

They don’t look like much when you lift them onto the cooling rack (does shortbread ever look impressive?). But the aroma of spice and sweet gives it all away.

Jumballs are truly delicious. Their balance of nut and spice, fragrance and buttery texture is divine. They’d hold their own in a spread of cookies. We’ve since learned that they pair well with Italian Cheese, but we suspected from the beginning that they would complement vanilla ice cream, custard, fresh fruit, or a simple cup of tea.

When we shared these with unsuspecting friends they were bowled-over by the surprising and delightful presence of coriander. And their first guess was that we’d found the recipe on one of the latest trendy food blogs, not through this archival project. We’ll be making these again.

 

Italian Cheese

This “Italian cheese” has intrigued me for some time. It comes from UPenn MS Codex 876 (1780). Just under this one is a recipe for “Cow Head Cheese” – containing not just “two Cow Heads” but also “two Calves Feet” plus “two Calves or Sheepe tongues.” I wasn’t feeling daring enough for this one (and didn’t happen to have a few bovine appendages hanging around), but it certainly represents a nose-to-tail approach! Since I’d rather just carry home a pint of cream and a few lemons from the market, I decided that it was time for Italian Cheese. This recipe only requires three main ingredients: cream, lemons, and sugar, plus almonds and raisins (or whatever you’d like) for garnish.

The Recipe

italian cheese

Italian Cheese

Grate the rind of two Lemons,

into a Pint of good Cream, add to

it the Juice of one Lemon, &

a quarter of a pound fine Sugar,

Whip it up together, put it in

a small Sieve, & let it stand

all Night. When sent up, stick

it with blanch’d Almonds &

Raisins — it must not be over

whipp’d —

The Results

The easy availability of these ingredients and the straightforward instructions meant that I followed the instructions above fairly closely.  Since the recipe cautioned that “it must not be over whipp’d,” I whisked the cream, lemon, and sugar mixture lightly, by hand, for about 30 seconds. The mixture was thicker than unwhipped heavy cream but not yet thick or airy. I then poured it into my handy sieve … only to have most of it go straight through into the bowl below. Oops. I lined the sieve with two single sheets of cheesecloth and tried again, which worked perfectly. As instructed, I let it sit in the fridge overnight (plus the non-eighteenth-century addition of some plastic wrap on top) to drain and thicken. It had yielded about 2-3 tablespoons of liquid within a few hours; since that amount didn’t seem to increase much overnight, you could probably rush this recipe in 3+ hours if necessary.

I suspected that it might turn out something like our cream cheese, just sweeter and citrusy, perhaps closer in taste to mascarpone than to the tanginess of cream cheese. And this hunch was mostly correct: it’s thinner than cream cheese or mascarpone (think the consistency of a thin custard or non-Greek yogurt), with a rich, sweet creaminess. The lemon zest in addition to the juice adds a nice zip – since I like citrus, I might increase both the zest and the juice next time. It would be fun to try this with orange, with meyer lemons, or with a mix of lemon and orange. Many citrus possibilities!

Since this uses a pint of cream, and depending on how you’re serving it, it could probably yield at least six servings and up to ten. I spooned a few dollops into a bowl and sprinkled slivered almonds on top. I don’t particularly care for raisins but had some dried sour cherries at hand and used those instead – I really liked the lemon/cherry combination. Raisins could of course work, as would currants or even chopped dried apricots or figs. Basically, I think this recipe lends itself to many variations. I ate a few spoonfuls of the concoction on its own and then remembered some spiced jumball cookies (we’ll post the recipe soon) in my freezer. It turns out that jumballs make an excellent vehicle for Italian cheese! It would also work very well spooned over fresh fruit or in a trifle. Italian cheese: easy to make, easy to enjoy.

Shrewsbury Cakes

{Today’s post is also published on Unique at Penn, a blog maintained by Penn libraries to highlight their collections. Since we’ve been exploring the library’s manuscript recipe books, we’re thrilled to share one of our finished recipe with Unique at Penn’s readers.}

One of the things we’ve been struck by along the way in this stroll through the culinary archives has been the similarity of certain recipes to many we follow today.  This holds true particularly for baked goods. (Except the notorious fish custard.) We weren’t quite sure what to expect from these “Shrewsbury cakes” – small cakes? Pancakes? Drop cookies? It turns out that Shrewsbury cakes are basically early modern snickerdoodles.

This recipe comes from MS Codex 625, a manuscript recipe book that belonged to a student in a London cooking school in the early eighteenth century. The pastry school was owned by Edward Kidder, who taught at a few locations in London between around 1720 and 1734. Blank books with printed title pages seem to have been used by students to write down recipes they learned. Kidder also published his recipes in the printed volume, Receipts for Pastry and Cookery, in 1720.

The Recipe

shrewsbury cakes

Shrewsbury Cakes.

Take a pound of fresh butter a pound of double
refind sugar sifted fine a little beaten
mace & 4 eggs beat them all together with.
your hands till tis very leight & looks
curdling you put thereto a pound & 1/2 of
flower roul them out into little cakes

Our recipe (halved from the original)

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 lb. sugar
1/4 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 lb. flour

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and mix at medium speed until the mixture looks curdled. Sift together dry ingredients and add at low speed until just combined. Scoop and roll the dough by hand into 1-tbsp. balls, then pat flat. [You could also refrigerate the dough until it’s firm enough to roll out on a flat surface and cut out into rounds.]

Bake  at 350F for 15-18 minutes (ours were about 1/3″ thick, so you could roll them thinner and have a slightly shorter cooking time) They’re done once they turn the slightest bit brown around the edges. This halved recipe yielded about two dozen cookies.

The Results

If you like snickerdoodles (and who doesn’t?), you’d like these. We added the cinnamon because we like it and couldn’t resist, and we thought it rounded out the mace nicely. These are mild, fairly soft cookies that are great with tea. We rolled and patted the dough into individual cookies because it was too soft and stick to roll out, but a little bit more flour and a stint in the fridge might make the dough easier to work with a rolling pin.