A Cookie for Depression
Hildegard's cookies of joy
I’ve realized I’ve been spending too much time in the Middle Ages this month. It’s time to move on.
But first, an accompanying recipe for this week’s story about Hildegard, my new favorite heroine of all time. It’s for a gingersnap-like cookie she called “Cookies of Joy.” We all know that, by their nature, cookies instinctively fall into the happy-inducing food group and are considered by many to be a daily requirement. Hildegard’s recipe bears this out by noting that hers reduces what she called black bile—the source of evil and melancholy in the body—and promotes a happy frame of mind. That’s why the cookies are made of spelt, a grain she noted to be a “hot, rich, and powerful grain” that “creates a happy mind and puts joy in the human disposition.” People who live with digestive complaints might agree that their stomachs are, indeed, filled with black bile and have found that baking with spelt has brought some measure of relief. And then there’s the spice mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, all considered in many food cultures to be beneficial to overall physical and mental health.
If you visit Eibingen, Germany, and stop by the Benedictine Abbey where Hildegard rests in a heavily decorated golden coffin, you can pick up a package of the cookies baked by the nuns and sold in the abbey’s gift shop. You may also want to buy a bottle or two of the abbey’s wine and/or potent liqueurs made from the vast vineyards that surround the building. Hildegard would approve.
Before you start baking, don’t forget to subscribe to America Eats!
Cookies of Joy
Hildegard’s original recipe from her book, Physica:
Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves, and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and flour and water. Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful. It purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors in you. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.
Now here is the modern translating.
But first a note: I was talking to my sister the other day about this recipe that veered into some mulling over the idea that perhaps the cookie’s effect might be supported a little with the addition of a tiny bit of hemp. If one was so inclined, lets say substitute one of the tablespoons of dairy butter with one tablespoon of hemp butter. Something like that. I didn’t have any around to try this out but my sister says she may bake a batch today. For the sceptics, rest assure that Hildegard was quite the fan of hemp and used it in many of her cures.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup raw honey
4 egg yolks
12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 cups spelt flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
In a medium-size bowl mix together the sugar and honey, then add the egg yolks and stir until the ingredients are blended together. Add the melted butter, gently stir, then fold in the rest of the ingredients. It will be a fairly stiff dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Flour a surface and roll out the cookie dough until about a 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into small circles. An upturned glass or tin will do nicely for those of us without cookie cutters.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until a golden-brown. Slap away eager hands until the cookies are thoroughly cooled.
Best served with your favorite herbal tea, such as licorice, mint, or chamomile.