The Great Elizabeth, the last Tudor, had a major sweet tooth. To be fair, she was not the only one. Food has always served to demonstrate and affirm status, and the royals of all times have asserted wealth and power by consuming the most luxurious and exotic comestibles of their epoch. Luckily for Elizabeth the Great, her reign coincided with exploration of the New World. While Sir Walter Raleigh, an avid smoker, did not actually bring tobacco to England (contrary to common belief), he did bring something much better, in his sovereign’s opinion – cane sugar.
Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, the virgin queen’s only suitor for many years and the hero of the somewhat scandalous relationship with Elizabeth, knew her taste for sweets. He also knew how to give a party in grand style, as befitting a queen. It seems that the three-week long party in Elizabeth’s honor he threw in his Kenilworth Castle became the most important social event of her era, almost overshadowing her coronation. She was happy, though, because the culmination of the bash was an “ambrosial” 300-dish dessert banquet.
This fantastic endeavor was recreated at the restored Kenilworth Castle’s Elizabethan Garden. Due to extensive evidence, including the original menu, immense sugar sculptures and sugary treats were accurately reproduced by renown Bombas & Parr culinary art duo. Yes, Beautiful People, those giant sculptures are made of sugar paste! Add to that the habit of polishing teeth by rubbing sugar into them, and what you get is a dentist’s nightmare!
Notice that in many portraits of the Great Queen, from her youth to the latest years, you never see an open-toothed smile. No doubt, sugar is the culprit! While in her 60’s, a French Ambassador remarked that her teeth were “very yellow and unequal,” and a visiting German dignitary, while describing the queen’s “pleasant appearance,” also noticed that her teeth were black, “a fault the English seem to suffer from because of their great use of sugar” (University of Reading course materials). Toothache was only the nobility’s malady, though; sugar being excessively expensive and thus not accessible to the rest of British population, simple people stuck to old-fashioned honey and fruit.
In recreating one of the queen’s favorite sugared treats, known as Jumbals, or Jambles (spelling was quite whimsical in those times; Sir Walter Raleigh’s name is spelled several different ways in official documents), I am using the original recipe, provided by the University of Reading, with some modifications. Instead of this:
Take twenty eggs and put them in a pot, both the yolks and the
white: beat them well. Then take a pound of beaten sugar and
put to them, and stir them well together. Then put to it a quarter
of a peck of flour and make a hard paste thereof; and then with
aniseed mould it well and make it in little rolls, being long. Tie them
in knots, and wet the ends with rosewater. Then put them in a pan
of seething water, but even in one waum. Then take them out with
a skimmer and lay them in a cloth to dry. This being done, lay them
in a tart pan, the bottom being oiled. Then put them in a temperate
oven for one howre, turning them often in the oven (Thomas Dawson, Good Housewife’s Jewel, 1596)
…I use aquafaba (liquid left after cooking chick peas), brown sugar – much healthier than white refined one! – spelt flour, and sesame seeds. Because “I am what I am,” I can’t help but add chocolate. Mix it all together to get stiff, but pliable dough.
Make one long log and cut it into about one inch pieces. Start rolling each piece into long cords, and by all means, get kids involved. If you don’t have any of your own, you may borrow some from neighbors – they’ll love you to bits!
Once you have a long cord, fold it in half and twist. Trust me, this is better than play dough! Meanwhile, start a pot of water boiling.
You can form any kinds of knots, but the original method was to connect the ends of a twist into a circle. Drop these circles into boiling water one by one, making sure they don’t collide. It only takes a couple of minutes for them to rise to to the top, at which point you fish them out and place them on a paper towel to blot excess water.
You still have to bake them, though, and you do that by arranging them on a barely misted with oil baking sheet. “Temperate oven for one howre” means fairly low temperature for about an hour, turning them often, until golden spots appear.
I dusted mine with zylitol, but feel free to dust them with real sugar, if Queen Elizabeth’s and her court’s dental issues have not scared you. I have made sure these simple, yet delicious little cuties are not endangering your teeth!
- 1/2 cup aquafaba
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup spelt or gluten free flour
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon sesame or caraway seeds, or aniseed
- Preheat oven to 200 F. Mist baking sheet with oil. Boil pot of water.
- Whisk aquafaba well, gradually add the rest of ingredients, mix thoroughly. If using gluten free flour, add more flour, if needed. Turn dough onto floured working surface.
- Roll dough into 2-inch thick log. Cut into 1 inch pieces, Roll each into a thin cord, fold cord in half, and twist. Connect ends of each twist into circles and seal them.
- Drop circles into boiling water for 1 – 2 minutes until they rise to the top. Remove onto paper towel, blot excess water, arrange on baking sheet. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, turning occasionally, until golden spots appear. Cool on rack.
- Dust with zylitol or powdered sugar before serving.