The medieval cookie cure for your pandemic blues

It’s tough not being at least a bit depressed these days, pelted every day as we are, with news about the Covid pandemic and the paralysis of our national government. To cope I’ve developed what I call “The Ostrich Solution,” to filter out potentially upsetting news and focus instead on the more whimsical, bizarre or just pleasantly irrelevant aspects of the world. 

So my sanitized inbox now includes messages from the Royal Horticultural Society in London; several Facebook pages dealing with succulents; recipe sites; travel articles about far-away places; a daily brief about Stoic philosophers; and home improvement projects I couldn’t begin to afford. 

News about volcanoes, such as the ones belching in Iceland or the Canary Islands, also made the list. We’ve always wanted to see a live volcano in action. 

Most of this material is, of course, voyeuristic—and that’s the whole idea. I’m not about to cook Saag Paneer Spanakopita, a sort of Greek pastry, no matter how yummy the pictures look; travel to Britain for the annual Chelsea Flower Show, or float over Botswana aboard a hot air balloon. But they all beat “real” news. 

So far my favorite site is Atlas Obscura, whose editors dish out daily bundles of irrelevant but fascinating information, and organize tours to places you’ve never heard of. Where else can you read about Hong Kong’s flock of feral cockatoos

Hildegard, saintly cookie monster

Recently I was struck by a story about Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century cloistered nun who was a prophet, mystic and healer, later canonized by the Catholic Church, and said to commune with God and write music. She even invented a language. 

She was indeed a Renaissance woman a few hundred years ahead of the actual Renaissance, and on occasion a bit of a con artist too. 

But Hildegard’s most fascinating contribution may have been her concoctions to heal all sorts of maladies, from nausea and constipation to leprosy—and in particular, her “Cookies of Joy,” which she prescribed as an antidote to depression.   

She counseled people to eat her cookies often to “calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful. [They] purify your senses and diminish all harmful humors. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.”

If her cookies deliver only half of what they promise, they sound like a godsend to get us through these anxious times. Victoria Sweet, a medical historian and physician, says she actually made Hildegard’s cookies and found them tasty though so loaded with butter and sugar they were bound to buzz you up. Add a sprinkling of marijuana and you really will be flying with joy. 

 Cookies of Joy Recipe


12 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup raw honey
4 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups spelt flour (you can usually find it in the baking aisle or the gluten-free aisle)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves


  1. Melt the butter, then add it to a medium bowl with the sugar, honey, and egg yolks. Beat gently, then fold in the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate the dough for an hour.
  2. Flour a surface and then roll out the cookie dough until about a 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into small circles using a cookie cutter or an upturned glass.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, or until a golden-brown. Let cool, then enjoy. 
(Hildegard’s cookies, and her wine, are still for sale at the Benedictine Abbey of St Hildegard, in Eibingen, Germany, if you happen to be in the neighborhood.) 

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