It's March 30. It's snowing and raining and sleeting and I wonder if this may be the year, in my span of 64, when spring doesn't appear.
Add to that the war in Ukraine and the constant bickering and blaming whenever you tune-in to the news or connect through "social" media and the continuing underlying concerns about the pandemic and its variants. It's a perfect time to introduce one of my favorite Hildegard of Bingen's "remedies": Cookies of Joy! She had me at cookies, but then she added joy — I just had to try them.
Giving credit where credit is due, much of the following information comes from Sam O'Brien on Gastro Obscura, where he posts "Eat Like a Medieval Saint With Her Recipe for 'Cookies of Joy'." Sam cleverly and succinctly summarizes Hildegard in his first paragraph:
Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th-century nun, mystic, prophet, and healer. She led an abbey, communed with God, advised royalty, and chastised emperors. She also made cookies.
Sam goes on to write a fun and detailed history of Hildegard and a few of her cures and quirks.
But, back to Cookies of Joy. Hildegard used a form of humoral theory in her healing practice.
Hildegard saw all ailments as imbalances of earth, fire, water, and air, and how they impacted what she called the body’s 'viriditas', or “greening power,” to heal itself. The key was identifying whatever imbalance threw off this power (was the body too hot? too dry? too cold?) and rectify it with herbal wines, soups, syrups, and, of course, cookies. In the case of her cookies of joy, Hildegard’s target was an overabundance of black bile, what she considered to be the source of evil and melancholy. Her weapons against this darkness were spelt and spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. Spelt, in Hildegard’s words, is a “hot, rich, and powerful” grain that “creates a happy mind and puts joy in the human disposition.” Spices such as nutmeg would have a similar effect, opening up the heart, freeing the mind and senses, and establishing an overall joyful disposition.
Dr. Victoria Sweet, author of one of my most recent favorite books, Slow Medicine, has researched Hildegard and her healing extensively, even learning Latin in order to personally interpret her writings. I appreciate her "professional insight" on Cookies of Joy:
They were good. I mean, how bad could they be with butter and sugar?
There are several versions of Cookies of Joy, but all contain spelt flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Here is the version I've settled on and have made several times in the past few weeks with tasty success. Hildegard suggests eating 2 cookies daily with strong spelt tea. I eat a few more than that with chai latte for dunking. And I do feel joy.
Hildegard's Cookies of Joy (LuAnn's version)
¾ cups butter (I use ghee) - room temperature or melted slightly
¾ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup honey
2 eggs (I don't like separating eggs and having whites set aside in the fridge to be forgotten)
2 ½ cups spelt flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon nutmeg powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon cloves powder
¼ teaspoon galangal powder, optional (Hildegard liked galangal and said we should have some daily.
Cream butter and sugar.
Stir in honey and eggs.
Mix spices and salt into the flour.
Stir it all together.
Refrigerate for an hour.
I do not like rolling out and cutting up cookie dough- way too much work. I roll the cookies into walnut sized balls, toss in sugar, place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, criss-cross with a fork to push down.
Bake at 350° F for 12-15 minutes (simply until done).
One more curious side note I just have to mention: In medieval times, sugar was thought of as medicine with Hildegard referring to sugar as the most completely balanced medicine! She suggests sugar for "whoever suffers in the brain or chest and is so congested that they are not able to purge or cough up the congestion...it purges the person's mind and loosens the congestion in the chest." This is likely due to sugar being difficult to obtain and thus, quite desirable — quite a difference today! All things in moderation can certainly be applied here.
Did you notice the branches in my photo of the cookies? Those are forsythia branches that my sweet daughter brought to me, cut from shrubs that we transplanted to her yard from my former yard. Look at them now! A friend of mine mentioned that red twig dogwood also blooms out nicely with small white flowers against the red bark when brought inside and placed in a vase with water. This is another easy way to bring a bit of spring insid when spring doesn't seem to be in any hurry to arrive outside!