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A perfect pairing: A recipe for almond jumballs and a podcast episode on "Recipes for Thought"

Wendy Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern Kitchen
Wendy Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern Kitchen

Wendy Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern Kitchen

Early modern kitchens, food, and recipes offer an intriguing window on the world in which Shakespeare lived.

Our new Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode is a fascinating interview with Wendy Wall, who explores the role of food, kitchens, and other related subjects in her 2015 book Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen.

A Northwestern University professor of English and director of the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Wall is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen on iTunes.


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Recipes from the Folger Collection

Among the sources for Wendy Wall’s book Recipes for Thought are early modern recipes in the Folger collection. The Folger has an exceptional holding of household notebooks, which include recipes for foods, medicines, and household supplies. To learn more about the handwritten recipes in the Folger collection, read And …why we love recipes on our Shakespeare’s World blog or visit Shakespeare’s World and choose “recipes.”

Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia have also used recipes from the Folger as an archival source for their blog, Cooking in the Archives: Updating Early Modern Recipes (1600-1800) in a Modern Kitchen. Inspired by the summer heat, Marissa recently included a recipe for snow cream from a Folger manuscript. Last month, she told the story of another recipe from the Folger manuscript collection, almond jumballs. We include a short excerpt from her jumballs blog post below:

Cooking Almond Jumballs at the Folger Shakespeare Library
by Marissa Nicosia

The following is an excerpt of a recipe for almond jumballs recently added to Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia’s Cooking in the Archives blog. The treat was not only derived from a Folger manuscript, but was also baked at the Folger, as the following photos show. To read more about the jumballs recipe, go to the full-length version on the blog.

It’s time that we talk about paleography, the study of handwriting. (Bear with me, we’re also going to make almond jumballs!) Without specialized training, Alyssa and I wouldn’t be able to read the historical recipes that we cook, research, and write about on this site.

When my former paleography teacher Heather Wolfe [the Folger curator of manuscripts] asked me to talk about historical recipes with her Introduction to English Paleography course this summer, I jumped at the chance. Within a few minutes of discussion, Heather and I had settled on a cooking project in addition to a visit to her class. I cooked “Almond Jumballs” from Folger Manuscript V.a.429, folio 52v, with Heather, members of her class, and library staff and interns. It was a blast!

The Recipe

Almond jumball recipe. Manuscript V.a.429. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Almond jumball recipe. Manuscript V.a.429. Folger Shakespeare Library.

While I went into the classroom with a general plan for how to prepare the jumballs (we’d already purchased ingredients, after all!), we did ask the students in the course to consider how they would translate this recipe into actual ingredients and steps. They asked great questions which forced me to rethink my draft recipe both at the start and while we were in the kitchen.

Our Recipe

Makes about two dozen cookies.

1lb blanched almonds or ground almonds
2T orange flower water (or rose water)
3C sugar (1C for sugar syrup, 2C for cookie formation)
4-5 egg whites

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Mix together ground almonds and flower water.

Mixing ground almonds and flower water. Credit: Cooking in the Archives.

Photo: Cooking in the Archives

Toast the almond mix for about 2 minutes. Remove when the mix starts to brown.

Photo: Cooking in the Archives

Photo: Cooking in the Archives

Make a “thick” sugar syrup. Bring 1C sugar and scant 1C water to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. This will produce about 1 1/2C sugar syrup.

Making thick sugar syrup. Credit: Cooking from the Archives.

Photo: Cooking in the Archives

Add the sugar syrup 1/2C at at time to the toasted almond mix. At this point you can form the mix into balls and divide into batches (if you prefer).

Forming mix into balls. Credit Cooking in the Archives.

Photo: Cooking in the Archives

Raise the oven temperature to 400F.

Put the almond mix balls in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 2C sugar (for the whole amount). Separate your eggs. You can either whip your egg whites to produce a slightly fluffier jumball or skip this step to create a chewier jumball.

Add egg whites to the almond sugar mix one at a time (approximate if whipped) until your dough is moist and pliable. You should be able to roll a piece of it into a log on a flat surface.

Shape your dough into twists, letters, etc. Write your name, make a funny face, shape a flower, and have fun with it! Place your jumball shapes on two or more greased baking sheets.

Photo: Cooking in the Archives

Photo: Cooking in the Archives

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes until the jumballs are lightly browned.

The Results

Fresh from the oven, the jumballs were chewy, sweet, and fragrant. A day later they were like hard macaroons. We were pleased with how they turned out.

Alyssa and I always learn when we cook together, but cooking with a group was a new experience for me. With so many people completing tasks and offering opinions, we collaborated to make a better version of the recipe. Here at Cooking in the Archives we believe that people can learn a lot about early modern recipes by reading them and cooking them. I can’t wait to hear what else the Introduction to Paleography students find, try, taste, read, and learn as a result of this training.

For more details about the original recipe, details on how to prepare it, and much more, see the full blog post at Cooking in the Archives.


[…] available here). Listen to a related podcast—and try your hand at early modern cooking—here. You can also explore the related exhibition, Beyond Home Remedy: Women, Medicine, and […]

ENCORES: 'Recipes for Thought' Lecture by Wendy Wall (2011) - The Folger Spotlight — June 4, 2021