Sunday, June 05, 2011

Jumbals and Paper Pancakes

Thursday evening, the Botetourt County Historical Society hosted a talk called Jumbals and Quire of Paper Pancakes: Food & Family in Mid-19th Century Fincastle.

The talk was presented by Professor Gail McMillan, Director of Digital Libraries and Archives at Virginia Tech, and Dr. Jean Robbins, R.D., retired from the Virginia Cooperative Extension. (She said during her talk that she was 82 years old!)

Professor McMillan told a story of Nannie Figgat and her marriage to Charlie Figgat, both of Fincastle. They lived in the 1800s and at the turn of the 20th century. Theirs was a love story with a rather bad ending. After more than 30 years of marriage, Charlie Figgat absconded with a sum of money from his empoyer, the Bank of Lexington, in 1895, and vanished. He left his family behind.

I thought that was very sad. Typical, maybe, but still sad. Woe to those for whom the almighty dollar has more power than love.

 During Dr. Robbins' volunteer work with the Botetourt County History Museum, she became intrigued with Nannie Figgat. Eventually she found that Figgat's diary and cookbook were in the holdings at Virginia Tech.

Turns out, Nannie Figgat was a well-to-do gentile woman who kept house, oversaw her servants, and took care of the children. She also lived through the Civil War.

Dr. McMillan became intrigued with the story as well, and many hours of research later, they began showcasing recipes from Figgat's cookbook and telling her life story. They are still piecing the woman's life together. They've spoken about it several times: here is a little write up about another of their events.

The little brochure they handed out included a recipe for jumbals, a type of cookie. The Historical Society served them after the talk and they were very good. Many of the recipes have brandy or other alcoholic beverage in them. Professor McMillan theorized that because the water was not always potable in many places, alcoholic beverages were used in cooking for health purposes.

Because I didn't ask permission, I won't print their version of the jumbal recipe. But I will print the version of this cookie found in The Virginia Housewife, by Mary Randolph. This is one of the first known cook books, written in 1835. The book is available in its entirety for viewing through Google Books.

This version does not include brandy, alas.


Put one pound of nice sugar into two pounds of flour; add pounded spice of any kind, and pass them through a sieve; beat four eggs; pour them on with 3/4 of a pound of melted butter, knead all well together, and bake them.

How's that for easy, eh?


  1. Sounds like it was a very informative and interesting talk. I checked out Mary Randolph's cookbook and it is fascinating.

  2. So interesting to see Mary Randolph's cookbook---what a contrast to modern ones! And good to know how to bake, hash, or grill a calf's head. :-)


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