Spring is the perfect season to celebrate Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval Rhineland mystic, naturalist, seer, writer, gardener, composer, and physician. The world is leaping to life in every color of green, a celebration of Hildegard’s central concept of viriditas–the “greening finger” of the divine in all of life. I’ve long considered Hildegard a personal patron, and wrote about her in my book about Darwin.
Seattle is greening these days, to be sure. It’s also wet. As it pours rain for the third day in a row, I’m not feeling the least inclined to venture outdoors, not even to tend the herb garden as the saint surely would have. Instead, I’m curling up with a nice cup of tea and a plate of Hildgegard’s Cookies of Joy.
Yes, Cookies of Joy. As a healer, Hildegard was alert to the healing properties in herbs and spices. This blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves not only banishes melancholia, according to Hildegard’s Physica, but also releases our innate intelligence, and keeps us youthful in body and spirit. This recipe is my own adaptation of Hildegard’s 800 year old version. Her abbey at Rupertsberg had many benefactors, and traded regularly with the towns nearby. She would have had access to sugar, as well as eggs and butter from the holdings of the abbey’s small farm, and it is likely that she added such ingredients to her basic recipe, which emphasized fresh-ground spices in a paste of wheat flour. I like to think that Hildegard would gobble up my interpretation of her biscuits. Joyfully. They are just sweet enough, and perfect with coffee or tea. Take as directed: 3 cookies a day.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white/cane sugar (or one full cup of either brown or white)
1 egg, preferably fresh from the hen house
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour (can include part or all whole wheat or spelt)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cloves
(add up to 1/2 teaspoon more of each spice, to taste)
Cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well. Sift the dry ingredients together and mix until fully blended.
Roll the dough out to a generous 1/4 inch thickness, cut with your favorite small cookie cutter, and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I use a 1 1/2″ fluted round cutter, and I love the looks of them, but other nature-inspired shapes, such as flowers or butterflies would be lovely. If you are one of those bakers who hates rolling and cutting cookies, you could instead hand roll the cookies into one inch spheres, arrange on a cookie sheet, and press them into 1/4 inch flat circles with the bottom of a glass.
Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, or until the edges are just browning.
Surely you’ll need a soundtrack for baking: There are many recordings of Hildegard’s gorgeous, unusual compositions, but for these cookies the most fitting might be Sequentia’s Canticles of Ecstasy.