Martha Washington’s Jumbles … Sort of

I have always been interested in history.  I’m especially curious to learn how people in different times and places lived.  What they wore, how they talked, what they ate.  I recently listened to a podcast episode called Colonial Baking from The Baking Podcast.  One of the recipes they discussed was the Jumble recipe from Martha Washington’s cookbook. 

“Jumbles,” as described in the Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, were “sometimes called knots, a type of biscuit popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.  They were made from a light mixture of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, flavoured with rosewater and aniseed or caraway seed.  The mixture was made into thin rolls and shaped into rounds or knots before baking; the name derives from gemmel, twin, here referring to a double intertwined finger ring.”

I loved trying to figure out Martha’s recipe from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, transcribed by Karen Hess.

“To Make Iumbals

               Take a pound & a halfe of fine flowre & a pound of fine sugar, both searced & dried in an oven, 6 youlks, & 3 whites of eggs, 6 spoonfulls of sweet cream & as much rose water, fresh butter ye quantity of an egg.  Mingle these together & make it into stiff paste.  Work it a quarter of an hour then break it abroad, & put in as much annyseeds or caraway seeds as you shall think fit, & put in A little muske & ambergreece. Roule them into rouls & make them in what forms you please. Lay them on pie plates thing buttered,& prick them with holes all over. then bake them as you doe diet bread.  If this quantity of eggs will not be enough to wet ye flour& sugar, put in 23 or 4 more, but no more cream, butter, not rosewater.”

Now a few of these words I had never heard of and had to look them up.  Searced was found to mean sifted.  Alrighty.  Annyseeds is aniseed.  Muske? A substance derived from a musk deer’s gland.  Yeah, I figured that.  Ambergreece?  A waxy gray substance from whale intestines that was used in perfume.  Basically – whale vomit.  GROSS!!  Not going to try any cookies from THAT recipe!!

Slightly put off from making jumbles, I kept looking and was able to find a modern recipe adapted from Eliza Leslie’s 1857 cookbook posted on It is as follows.


Makes about 3 dozen

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon rose water

3 cups sifted flour

2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon mace

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Additional sugar

  1. Sift flour with spices.  Set aside.  Cream butter and sugar until very light.  Add egg and rose water, blending thoroughly.  Add dry ingredients all at once to creamed mixture, blending well.  Wrap dough and chill at least 2 hours. 
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness.  Cut out circles with a glass or cut into thin shapes and shape into rings.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.  Remove to a rack, sprinkle with sugar, and cool.

I decided I could handle this recipe.  But where do you get rose water?  Well, you could make your own with just water and rose petals but it isn’t rose season yet in Pennsylvania. The next best place for anything is Amazon.  I was a little leery about things listed under beauty being good to cook with so I got a bottle that was Food Grade-specific.

I used a glass to cut out my cookies and baked as the recipe directed.

Thin and crisp!

They had a very nice flavor to them! The nutmeg and mace really stood out. I didn’t taste any rose in it. This reminds me of autumn and pumpkin spices. I’m sure with them being crisp like they are, they would be good for travelling. Maybe Martha sent some along with George when he went abroad?!

Let me know in the comments if you would like to see some more Colonial recipes.

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