Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Jumbles: Making Anise Seed Pretzels


This is a re-creation of a recipe from The Good Huswifes Jewell Part 2 (England, 1597) by Thomas Dawson, entitled ‘To make Iombils, a hundred’.

“Jumbles were knot shaped biscuits that first appeared in the wonderful book The good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson, dating to 1585. But legend places this biscuit right at the heart of The War of the Roses a century before Dawson’s recipe…The story goes that Richard III’s chef brought biscuits to the battlefield. These were even thought to be his speciality and the favourite of the king. After the battle when survivers were stealing valuables from the dead as was the custom, a recipe for these biscuits was found – because you should never go to war without at least one good biscuit recipe! The biscuits were promptly named Bosworth Jumbles.” (Ysewijn)

"In 16th century England gimmell rings (from the Latin gemellus for twin) were popular symbols of love and friendship and often exchanged as wedding rings." ("All Jumbled Up") Then, there is Robert Herrick’s 1648 poem ‘The Jimmall Ring Or True-Love Knot’:

“Thou sent’st to me a true love-knot, but I
Returned a ring of jimmals to imply
Thy love had one knot, mine a triple tie.” (Herrick)

"Jumbles then are biscuits made in the shape of these rings, and their twisted and entwined shapes are easily recognizable in many 16th and 17th century paintings, only recently has their shape changed to a flat or mounded biscuit." ("All Jumbled Up") A favorite “Italianate banqueting cake was jumbles, from the Italian gemello, or twin. As made in the banquet’s first iteration, jumbles were formed by tying ropes of sugary, anise-flecked dough into elaborate knots, making cakes that resembled pretzels (hence the name) but tasted much like soft German springerle (which may well derive from the same Italian source).” (Schmidt) Jumbles were a hybrid of pretzels and bagels. The first visual example of a pretzel was in the 12th century in the Hortus Deliciarum.

“Food historians trace the history of these cookies and cakes to Medieval Arab cuisine… This sweet culinary tradition was imported by the Moors to Spain.” (Olver)

Dinner in the 1590’s was eaten around 12pm. White linen cloths would have been placed on the tables. For the upper class, a linen napkin was to be placed on the left shoulder. According to The Compleat Housewife’s menu suggestions, jumbals were recommended to be eaten at the end of the meal with other sweet treats. In this book, examples are provided of what to serve during the first and second courses for each month of the year. Boiled meats and meat pies frequented the first courses, while other meat dishes (roasted or baked) and sweet treats appear in the recommended second courses. “Following the two main courses was a third, consisting of spiced wine, known as hippocras; sweetmeats, comfits of all kinds, and wafers…This course, eaten standing, was known as the ‘void’, variously taken as meaning that the table had been cleared, or ‘voided’, or that the course was eaten in a smaller room, thus ‘voiding’ the hall.” (Thomas)

The Source Recipe

The original text of the recipe from 1597 is as follows:

Take twenty Egges and put them into a pot both the yolkes & the white, beat them wel, then take a pound of beaten suger and put to them, and stirre them wel together, then put to it a quarter of a peck of flower, and make a hard paste thereof, and then with Anniseede moulde it well, and make it in little rowles beeing long, and tye them in knots, and wet the ends in Rosewater, then put them into a pan of seething water, but euen in one waum, then take them out with a Skimmer and lay them in a cloth to drie, this being doon lay them in a tart panne, the bottome beeing oyled, then put them into a temperat Ouen for one howre, turning them often in the Ouen. (Dawson, 1597)

Related Recipes

While interpreting this recipe, I also considered the following recipes that appear to be related:



The original recipe calls for the following ingredients:

20 eggs
1 pound sugar
¼ peck of flour

Oil for the pan

Looking at other historical recipes for jumbles, the seasoning for jumbles can include almonds, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, aniseeds, and/or rosewater. Based on my research, anise seeds appear to have been the most popular of the above seasonings. Markham, Dawson, Woolley, and Washington’s recipes all called for aniseeds. Based on a taste test that was done at Kingdom Twelfth Night 2020, using only 1 teaspoon of anise seed for this recipe was quite subtle and preferred by those who do not typically like anise. However, using 1 Tbsp of anise resembles the recipes of other baked goods of from this time period. Anise originated from Greece and Egypt, but was cultivated in England. It was believed to be a digestive aid, as well as good for freshening breath. (Sannieb) Anise was one of many herbs grown in any herb garden across Elizabethan England. In late summer, the white flowers will start to grow little seeds. These seeds are then picked and ripened indoors.

“White bread was so highly valued…English wheat is naturally ‘soft’, that is to say, it has a low gluten content.” (Sim) Only the wealthy could afford this off-white flour. “The best flour produced in this period was an ‘off-white’ flour, rather than the pure white flour produced today by industrial roller milling. The best ‘extraction’ rates that could be achieved is thought to be around 80%.” (“Medieval Flour & Pastry”) “Medieval wheat was a winter crop, and was bred from ancestral wheats such as einkorn, emmer, and spelt.” (Piebakere) Einkorn wheat “is known in taxonomy as either Triticum boeoticum (wild wheat)” and “is the oldest wheat known to scientists…the first domestication of wild einkorn was recorded approximately around 7500 BC.”. (“The History of Einkorn”)

Sugar first became domesticated around 8,000 B.C. in New Guinea. By 1550, there were over 3,000 sugar mills in the New World. (Dickson) Sugar was made and shipped in conical molds called sugarloaves. “The highest grade of these sugars were the fine, white sugars.” (“Elizabeth's sweet tooth”) Scissors were used to cut the mold. The cut pieces were then grated down with similitude to the sugar we know today. This is why I chose to use cane sugar for this recipe. The rosewater was made out of rose petals boiled in water. For the eggs, according to the University of Reading and Historic Royal Palaces, “twenty eggs in 1596 equates to 10 medium modern eggs.” (Sannieb)

The original recipe states to oil the bottom of the tart pan. Butter can be used for this purpose (Matterer). Medieval butter was salted for preservation. "A typical modern salted butter contains 1-2 percent salt, whereas medieval butter contained 5-10 times as much: according to a record of 1305, 1 pound of salt was needed for 10 pounds of butter, i.e., the butter was 10 percent salt." (Wilson) Per May’s 1665 jumble recipe, the recipe states to wash the salt out. Since the salt most likely would have been washed out in 1597, I chose to use unsalted butter for oiling the pan.


“Cooking utensils were typically made of clay, iron, copper, or brass…A well-appointed kitchen would also have a wooden kneading-trough.” (Forgeng) The water would have most likely been carried in from the local watering source (like a river) by wooden buckets. The water would have then been boiled in a large copper pot over a fire. Water boils at 212º F, regardless if over a fire or an electric stove.

Bread and other pastries were baked in ovens. Ovens could have been made out of brick, tile, or clay. “The first written historical record of an oven being built refers to an oven built in 1490 in Alsace, France. This oven was made entirely of brick and tile, including the flue.” (Bellis) Cob or cloam ovens were widely used. Cloam ovens were made of clay and built into the brick near the hearth of the fireplace. (Mytton-Davies) Cob ovens were typically made of mud and other binding materials. First, the oven would be heated with a fire made from burning twigs or brushwood for approximately 2 hours. Then, the fire is removed, and the oven floor swiftly cleaned. Finally, the baked goods are placed in the oven and the wooden door is closed. The wooden door could have been soaked in water to swell it shut or dough placed around the edges to seal it shut to keep the heat in. Depending on the item being baked will determine the amount of time the baked goods should stay in the oven. (Pursglove) “Those who could not afford a proper oven might bake under a crock turned upside down and covered with coals.” (Forgeng)

One way to test the temperature of the oven is to “throw a small handful of flour at the roof of the oven...If it sparks on contact you have reached the very highest cooking temperature.” (Goodman) This is too hot for many baked goods. Based on an analysis, this is approximately 400º F (Polka). The optimal temperature would be where the oven’s door is between “fairly warm and ‘ouch’” (Goodman). When the oven was freshly hot, the larger items like bread loaves was baked. As the oven cooled, then the smaller items were baked, like pies. This temperature could be approximately 325-350º F. Then the oven “will have cooled to the ideal heat for setting custards and giving biscuits their second baking”. (Goodman) My husband built me a cloam oven made from brick and clay, which I used to bake for this project. I also baked some in our electric oven for a comparison. The temperature was set at 350º F on our electric oven, which was approximately the same temperature it was inside the clay oven. However, since the original recipe instructions state to turn the jumbles often in the oven, I turned the oven down to 325º F after 10 minutes, since the cloam oven gradually lost its heat every time the wooden door was opened to turn the jumbils.


First, I did my math conversions, as well as lowering the recipe down to ¼ the original recipe. “In Great Britain the peck may be used for either liquid or dry measure and is equal to 8 imperial quarts (2 imperial gallons) …The peck has been in use since the early 14th century, when it was introduced as a measure for flour.” (“Peck”) “In other recipes a peck of flour means a volume measurement of 2 gallons, which would weigh only 8 to 10 pounds, depending on how settled the flour is in the measure.” (“Peck of Flour”) Per the original recipe, a quarter of a peck of flour is needed, making it ¼ of 8 pounds which equals 2 pounds. Two pounds of flour equals 7.25 cups, divided by ¼ equals 1.81 cups or approximately 1 ¾ cups (to make measuring with measuring cups easier). One pound of sugar equals 2.26 cups, divided by ¼ equals 0.56 cups or approximately 1/2 cup. According to the University of Reading and Historic Royal Palaces, “twenty eggs in 1596 equates to 10 medium modern eggs.” (Sannieb) One quarter of 10 medium modern eggs equals 2.5 eggs. It’s difficult to cut an egg in half, I chose to decrease this to 2 eggs.

My interpretation of Dawson's recipe:

1 3/4 cup Einkorn wheat flour
1/2 cup cane sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp aniseed (Pimpinella anisum)
1 tsp rosewater for the ends
1 Tbsp butter for oiling the pan

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Combine the eggs and sugar. Mix in the flour, saving the aniseed for last. Roll dough into 1-inch diameter balls. Then, roll and shape the dough like a pretzel on a floured board. Secure the ends with rosewater. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Poach the knots for about 30 seconds. They will instantly sink to the bottom of the pot. Then, use a utensil to free them from the bottom and they will float. After another moment, remove the knots from the water. Then, lay the knots on a towel to dry for about 5 minutes. Butter the baking pan. Once dry, bake the knots for about 20 minutes, turning them over after every 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325º F after the first 10 minutes.

Yield: approximately 25 pretzels


Previously, I had made variations of May’s 1665 recipe for the Tri-Baronial Twelfth Night 2020 and Kingdom Twelfth Night 2020. I found these 1597 jumbles to taste like a black licorice flavored soft pretzel. The 1665 recipe (existed during the reign of Charles II) was more flavorful with butter, sack, and cream added to it, but less authentic to pre-16th century English culture when compared to the 1597 Elizabethan recipe.

While testing out this recipe, I discovered the hard way that the water should be boiled and not simmered. I learned that this is also how modern soft pretzels are made. I also played around with shapes, as well as testing out how many times to rotate the jumbles and how long to bake them for while in the oven.

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