Jumballs can be found in many different sixteenth and seventeenth century recipe books. They were a popular biscuit at the time. They could be flavoured with caraway seeds, rosewater or almonds depending on personal preference and what was in the cupboard.
25g (1oz) soft butter)
70g (3oz) caster sugar
1 egg beaten
15g (2oz) caraway seeds
160g (6oz) plain flour
Preheat the oven to 180c. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
Beat the butter and rosewater well together, then cream in the sugar.
Mix in the beaten eggs. Then add the caraway seeds and flour. Work the mixture into a dough. It should be possible to handle. If too wet, add some more flour. Separate the dough into balls the size of a walnut, then form them into rolls about 5mm in diameter and 15cm long. Shape into rings, knots and plaits.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. (knots and plaits will take longer than rings).
This recipe comes from A Taste of Townend and were written by Elizabeth Burkett in 1699. Along with Christmas treats her recipe books contains cures and charms. Other recipes are available including one from the BBCGood Food magazine:
https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/spice-vanilla-jumbles You can even find a Bake Off recipe for the Tudor treat:
So why small biscuits in a festive count down to Christmas? – the spices and sugar would be expensive so these little biscuits represent a treat. They are also representative of the fact that society became more affluent because more people could afford the spices and sugars which were now becoming more readily available because of trade and the growth of Empire -which draws us on to the less pleasant fact that the sugar was becoming cheaper because it was being grown by slaves.
Sugar was taxed until the Nineteenth Century. If you couldn’t afford sugar then sweetness was provided by the use of honey. From medieval times until the Victorian period sugar was sold in cones or loafs. For more about sugar cones/loafs follow this link: https://livesandlegaciesblog.org/2018/12/13/all-about-sugar-cones/