December 19, 2021

HERITAGE RECIPE : Grandma's Jumbles

Well, the third time was a charm! (Third recipe, in this instance.) After two failed recipes yesterday, this one was a winner.

The name "Grandma's Jumbles" is what caught my eye while I was flipping through the heritage cookbook. I've never heard of jumbles before, but the recipe made it pretty obvious that they were cookies. I happened to have the ingredients on hand, so I baked these last night.

The most fun part about this recipe, though, was learning about the person who'd submitted it. This recipe was submitted by Betty McWebb to the Rockwood, Michigan Area Historical Society. The name didn't mean anything to me until I learned that Betty was also known as "Aunt Bett" as well as "Elizabeth Upham" (her maiden name). Are any of you familiar with the old children's book Little Brown Bear? It was published in 1942 and was written by none other than Elizabeth Upham. How awesome is that?!

Elizabeth Upham was born in 1904 on a farm in Flat Rock, Michigan (which neighbors Rockwood). Her father was a storyteller and her mother a poet; so it's not a surprise that Elizabeth was a creative writer and storyteller as well. (She signed her poetry "Betty" from early on, so I will refer to her as Betty from here on out.)

In the 1920's during Prohibition, Betty wrote this limerick which I think is hilarious:

Once Mable found dear hubby Jack,
Rejoicing that whiskey was slack,
But when mending by chance,
She found in his pants,
Five tickets to Windsor and Back!

(The Downriver area is only about 20 minutes from the Windsor, Ontario border. This made me laugh because the legal drinking age in Canada is 19 and when I was in college, it was a common thing to cross the border to go to bars. I remember doing that several times.)

Betty became a teacher in 1937 and married her husband "Mac" in 1940. She was a talented poet and storyteller, sharing her stories with all who would listen (and people loved them!). She sold her poems in the 1930's, and then in 1942, her first children's book 'Little Brown Bear' was published. The book is a series of ten short stories about life lessons for kids told through the eyes of a "little brown bear".

Betty was affectionately referred to as "Aunt Bett" by all who knew her and listened to her stories. In the 1950's, a group of children would gather at her house to hear her stories; she also told stories at the libraries and at the County Fair. She also taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

She clearly loved children. Sadly, she and her husband lost their only child, a baby girl named Mary Ann, shortly after she was born in 1941.

Something I searched for and just couldn't find was the significance of was "Grandma"--as in, "Grandma's Jumbles". I don't know if she was referring to her own grandmother or if it was in reference to one of her stories. I read that in a past exhibit at a museum in Monroe, there were two life-sized papier mâché dolls that she'd made when she was young--one she referred to as "Grandma" and the other was of a favorite teacher. Odd! And I wish the exhibit was still there, because I would definitely go look at it.

Aunt Bett passed away at age 99. She was clearly well-loved by everyone in the community; it was fun to read about her!

Now, on to the cookies...

Grandma's Jumbles were a hit with Jerry and me. Noah and Eli thought they were just okay, because of the texture--it's more cake-like than your typical cookie (which I imagine is because of the condensed milk; that's the only ingredient that I don't usually see in cookies). I usually like chewy cookies as well--the chewier the better--but these were good! The texture actually reminded me of a light, fluffy quick bread. (This picture is a little blurry, but you can kind of see the texture.)

They definitely take on the taste of the nuts you use (I used pecans) so make sure you use a nut you love. She also stated you could use dates or raisins instead, but in the directions, she specified nuts; so that's why I chose to use those. And pecans are my favorite nuts in baking. These would probably be good with almonds, too!

As always, I made the recipe exactly as-written; I didn't substitute or modify anything. If something was unclear, I just made my best guess; make sure you read my notes after the recipe for any clarifications. The "printer-friendly" version is rewritten by me with the clarifications included.

Here is a printer-friendly version!

Grandma's Jumbles

1/2 c. soft shortening
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 c. evaporated milk (undiluted)
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped nuts, dates, or seedless raisins

Cream shortening thoroughly until fluffy. Blend in sugars and eggs and beat until smooth; stir in milk and vanilla. Sift flour, soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture and beat until blended. Add nuts and chill for one hour. Drop rounded tablespoons two inches apart on greased baking sheet and bake at 375 F for about 10 minutes. Burnt Butter Glaze: Heat 2 tablespoons butter until golden brown on low heat. Remove from heat and beat in 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar and 1/4 cup evaporated milk.

My Notes:

All of the ingredients were self-explanatory. Note that it's one CUP of evaporated milk and not one CAN. I almost poured the entire can in, and I'm glad I double-checked before doing that. (You'll use 1/4 cup of what's left later for the glaze).

I chose to use nuts--pecans--rather than dates or raisins because from the directions, it sounded like she used nuts. ("Add nuts and chill...")

The dough was definitely more like a batter when I was done and I wondered if I didn't add enough flour or something. There was no way to make drop cookies from it! After refrigerating for about 90 minutes, I pulled it out and it was thicker. It still was thinner than most cookie dough I've seen, but I was able to scoop and drop it onto cookie sheets.

I took them out after 10 minutes and they looked perfect--just barely baked through (I like cookies on the slightly-underbaked side).

I wasn't sure if I was supposed to drizzle the glaze all over or put a dollop on each cookie or what, so I just scooped a little spoonful and spread it right in the middle of the cookie--it ran down the sides a bit. I don't think it looked very attractive, but it definitely tasted good!

One thing I forgot to do was sift the powdered sugar before adding it to the butter. I'm bummed I did that, because it left some tiny clumps of powdered sugar in the glaze. It tasted fine, but it would have looked better if I'd sifted it first. You can see what I'm talking about below:

Overall, this recipe was a winner! I would definitely make these again. If you really don't like cookies with a cake-like texture, you probably won't enjoy them; but I always taste these recipes with an open mind and I really liked them. Jerry did, too!

And I'm SO glad I learned about Aunt Bett. (I'm sure if any of my local friends read this, they are going to be like, "Are you SERIOUS? You never knew about her?! There is a huge 9-ft. statue of a bear in front of the library that is dedicated to her." I just don't know how I missed this! ;) But I do remember the Little Brown Bear book.

This post is only a very tiny glimpse of who Aunt Bett was and all she meant to the community. I got this info from The Monroe News, The Toledo Blade, and Monroe Memories & More.


  1. Those cookies look really good! The story about Aunt Bett is even better. Her limerick definitely gave me a giggle. :D

  2. The cookies do look good. A really interesting story too. Thanks fo sharing


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