“Nutmeg has great heat and good moderation in its powers. If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up his heart, make his judgment free from obstruction, and give him a good disposition. Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves, and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat 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 purities your senses and diminishes all harmful humors in you. It gives good liquid to your blood, and makes you strong.” -Hildegard von Bingen, Physica, ~1153
For those who haven’t heard of her, Hildegard von Bingen was a nun of many talents who lived during the 12th century. Amidst composing music, founding monasteries, and apparently receiving visions from on high, she also wrote a treatise on diet, which is a fascinating read. In that, she lists the good and bad qualities of various ingredients, and how best to consume them for health.
I stumbled on these cookies by accident while looking for new recipes to try. If you search for them online, you’ll find many modernized versions that are likely quite tasty. However, as you know by now, I am a stickler for staying as true as possible to the original recipe. So when Hildegard says combine spice, flour, and water, then that’s what I do. Although, I’ll admit that when I tried the dough, I capitulated to my tastebuds and added a bit of raw sugar, too. Don’t worry, though. Hillie thought that sugar was “refreshing”, so I think she’d approve.
The resultant cookies, or cakes, are sort of like hardtack. Like… a healthy hardtack. They were not especially appealing when I first began to nibble on one, but the aftertaste is full of warm spiced goodness. While it’s certainly possible that HvB left out more common ingredients, figuring that anyone reading would know to add them (often done in historical cookbooks), I’m inclined to think that she meant them to be a little bland, despite the spices.
I mean, doesn’t this just seem like something a medieval nun would prescribe for someone with the blues? Plus, the lack of eggs and butter means that these would last almost indefinitely, a definite perk when dealing with expensive imported spices. I made mine with a lovely Irish wholemeal flour, combined with a bit of spelt flour. This gave it a rustic, flaked texture that holds together well, even when being toted around the house as a snack.
I can’t vouch for the purported healthy side effects, but so far, I’m a grudging fan. I also found that a nice dollop of thoroughly modern peanut butter and honey went delightfully well with the cookies. Just saying…
Where in Westeros?
I imagine that such quasi-medicinal foods might be the purview of the Maesters, or possibly the Sept, but that last might just be my mind associating septas with nuns…
Recipe for Hildegard’s Happy Cookies
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. clove
- 2 cups flour (including 1/2 spelt, 1/4 almond)
- 2 Tbs. raw sugar
- water enough to moisten
Combine all dry ingredients, then add just enough water to bring the mix together into a workable dough. Roll this out on a floured surface to about 1/4″ thickness, and cut into desired shapes. Arrange on a cookie sheet.
Bake cookies at 350F for around 15 minutes, or until they are mostly hard.