Jumbals: Royal Food Week 2

As I continue to catch up with A History of Royal Food and Feasting, I managed to finish week 2 earlier today just before the third week starts tomorrow. Result!

This week focused on Elizabethan food, discussing the impact of plummeting sugar prices along with the discovery of new ingredients from the New World. There was also quite a lot of content around the food served to prisoners in the Tower of London, and, well, it got me thinking that being imprisoned there wouldn’t have been all bad… assuming you were rich and could afford to sell off your estate to pay for lavish feasts, that is.


The recipes this week also focused more on sugary treats, and the one I decided to make are called “jumbals” – sweet, spiced biscuits that were popular as they last a long time. Biscuits that last a long time. That shouldn’t be something that is ever required of a biscuit…!

It was a very simple recipe: eggs beaten and mixed with sugar, and then with flour to form a dough. At that point caraway seeds were added to give a subtle warmness to the sweet dough.

The biscuits were formed by making thin logs of dough and then twisting them into knots. This was probably the most difficult part, but allowed a certain amount of freedom to make any shapes I wanted (or whatever shapes I ended up with).

To cook them, they’re first dropped in a pan of boiling water until they rise to the surface. Mine seemed intent on sticking to the base of the pan, but with a little encouragement they finally floated up. Then the recipe instructions got a little vague: cook in a fairly low temperature oven until golden brown, turning regularly.
I went for a 160 fan oven, and put them in for 5 minutes at a time, turning after each period. It took around 35 minutes in total, by which point they were crisp, golden and shiny from the earlier boiling process. This makes them look really tempting.

From being in a low oven so long, they were crispy. Really crispy. Eating them is a bit like trying to bite into a rock. But, once this minor inconvenience had been hurdled, they were pretty good. The subtle flavour from the caraway seeds combined with just a slight sweetness worked really well, and they were delightful with a cup of coffee.

Writing Inspiration

I think jumbals would be good as a Christmas holiday snack, a nice accompaniment to a hot mid-morning drink on a cold December morning. While I made them in July, the weather was such that this wasn’t actually too hard to imagine. And it is this sort of thought that I hoped to get out of this MOOC. Ideas for things that can work their way into my novel ideas. In November, I’ll be writing the sequel to The Magic of Christmas, a book that I wrote with the intention of portraying as many of the delightful Christmas treats I remember as a child as possible. Certain foods evoke a certain feeling, and I think jumbals are one of them. I’m curious to find out what it is they’re making me recall. Something festive, and something sweet. But what, exactly?

These were the best thing I’ve made from the course so far. As I said in my previous post, the recipes from the first week didn’t go so well. Week 3 starts tomorrow, and I’ve peeked ahead to see that there is a lot of content about chocolate. I think things are going to continue on their way up!!

Chris Phethean is a writer and blogger. He is working on a range of sci-fi, fantasy and adventure stories, and dreams of writing interactive narratives for video games. Find him on and Twitter.


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