Christmas finds aspiring chefs and weary moms everywhere cranking out sheets and sheets of cookies for office gifts, teacher gifts, and unexpected guests.

But where did the cookie originate…how have cookies changed through the years…and how many calories does the typical cookie contain…(actually forget calories, that’s what January is for)…

Cookies supposedly originated during the 7th century in Persia, shortly after the use of sugar became relatively common in the region. 

The Muslim conquest of Spain
brought the concept of cookies from Persia to Europe, and cookies became popular treats for people in all levels of society— from royal cuisine to street vendors—throughout Europe by the 14th century.


In the late 1620s
cookies first arrived in America as Dutch immigrants settled in New Netherland. 


Cookies
were appreciated for the fact that they traveled especially well, and one of the most popular early cookies was the jumble.


The jumble-
–also known by many variations on the basic name, including jambal, jemelloe, and gemmel—is a relatively simple cookie-like pastry consisting of nuts, flour, eggs, and sugar…and flavored with vanilla, anise, caraway seed, coriander, or rosewater.

The jumble could be stored for up to a year without becoming too stale because of its very dense, hard nature. 

Because of their dense, hard nature, the dough was usually rolled out and then shaped into intricate, pretzel-like loop or knot patterns before baking in order to make them easier to eat.  

Recipes for jumbles can be found in cookbooks as early as this recipe for Jumbles from The English Hus-Wife, by Gervase Markham, published in 1615… 

Take a pound of Sugar, beat it fine, then take as much fine wheat flower, and mix them together, then take two whites and one yelk of an Egg, half a quarter of a pound of blanched Almonds: then beat them very fine altogether, with half a dish of sweet Butter, and a good spoonful of Rose water, and so work it with a little Cream till it come to a very stiff paste, then roul them forth as you please: and hereto you shall also if you please, add a few dryed Anniseeds finely rubbed and strewed into the paste

Other earlier cookbooks that have included recipes for Jumbles are…

  • The Good Huswifes Jewell, by Thomas Dawson, published in 1585
  • The Carolina Housewife, by Sarah Rutledge, published in 1843
  • Famous Old Receipts Used a Hundred Years and More in the Kitchens of the North and the South, by J. Winston, published in 1908
  • Good Things in England, by Florence White, published in 1932

Modern jumbles are typically rolled cookies that contain a ‘jumble’ of nuts and dried fruit and are baked…similar to a modern sugar cookie…but without baking powder or other leavening agents.

The following recipe from Hearthside Cooking: Early American Southern Cuisine by Nancy Carter Crump is based on a recipe found in the cookbook Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweet-meats, by Eliza Leslie, published in 1830.

  
 

Jumbles
(Makes about 3 dozen)

Preheat oven to 375.
Cream together…

  • 1C softened butter
  • 1C sugar

Add…

  • 1 egg
  • 1Tbsp rose water

Sift together…

  • 3C flour
  • 2tsp nutmeg
  • 1tsp cinnamon

Add dry ingredients all at once to creamed mixture, blending well. 
Wrap dough. Chill 2 hours or longer. 
Roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Cut out circles with a biscuit cutter. 
Bake on ungreased cookie sheets 10min. 
Remove to a rack. Sprinkle with sugar. Cool.

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