Eating Medieval: Cookies of Joy

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Yes, Cookies of Joy--a medieval cookie purported to have healing properties.  Now this is my kind of cookie!

The Cookies of Joy come from Hildegard of Bingen, a Catholic mystic nun who lived from 1098 until 1179.  Hildegard--often called Saint Hildegard, though some sources say she was never formally canonized--was a remarkable woman who wrote plays, invented an alphabet, composed music, founded monasteries, wrote books on science, medicine,botany, nutrition, and theology, went on mission trips, preached, healed, and spoke with popes and emperors.  She is one of four women to be declared a Doctor of the Church, of whom there are only 34 total.  .

She is no doubt someone with whom Niall, in early 14th Century Scotland, would have been familiar.

She also had extensive ideas on food, nutrition,dietetics, and the healing properties of food.  These tied in with her four rules of life:

  1. Strenthen the soul (through prayer and meditation, by developing talents and virtues and eliminating weakness and vice).
  2. Regular detoxification through treatments designed to strengthen the body (bloodletting, fasting, purging, and more)
  3. When body, soul, and mind are equally strong, there is balance in the bodily elements.  This balance is easily upset by poor habits in eating, drinking, and 'lusts.'
  4. Sharpen the senses (live with purpose and good cheer, love life, use your senses well, and live responsibly)

Her Cookies of Joy contained foods she believed helped with this balance and good health.  The recipe* is as follows:


3/4 Cup butter (1-1/2 sticks)
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1/2 Cup of white/cane sugar
1 egg--fresh from the hen house if possible  (for me, it's not)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 Cups of flour (may include part or all whole wheat or spelt)
1-1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon 
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon of cloves
~  Add up to another teaspoon of each spice, to taste


Mix the butter and sugar until fluffy
Add egg and mix it in well
Sift the dry ingredients together and mix well

Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick and use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies...OR
Roll the dough into 1 inch circles, place on cookie sheet, and press flat with the bottom of a glass


375 for 10 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn brown

Hildegard recommended that bakers make and eat these cookies frequently to 'reduce the bad humors, enrich the blood, and fortify the nerves.'  I don't know about you, but I'm all for a prescription for eating cookies often!  I might even say it gives me joy!

And for sharpening the senses and living with joy, I recommend a composition by Hildegard of Bingen, hauntingly beautiful.


German Food: Health and Nutrition in the Middle Ages

At my other blog, Gaelic Word a Day: On the...Go  Planes, trains, and automobiles.

* Edited to Add: this is a recipe adaptated from Hildegard of Bingen's words.  More on that tomorrow!


  1. I adore her music. Hildegard of Bingen was an amazing woman!!!

  2. Yes, her life accomplishments, her mind, and her creativity are phenomenal!


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