Benedictines say their fresh-baked spice cookies have 'heavenly' scent

IMAGE: CNS photo/Katie Breidenbach

By Katie Breidenbach

Ind. (CNS) — The aroma of fresh-baked spice cookies fills the monastery bakery
in Ferdinand.

Sisters of St. Benedict claim this scent is truly “heavenly,” and with good
reason. A saint wrote the recipe.

is attributed to St. Hildegard,” explained Sister Jean Marie Ballard, manager
of the bakery. “She says, if you eat three to five of these cookies on a daily
basis, it creates a cheerful countenance, lightens a heavy heart and reduces
the effects of aging.”

Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine abbess born in Germany at the end of the 11th
century. She penned a recipe for “Cookies of Joy” in her medical work “Physica”
sometime between the years 1151 and 1158.

the Ferdinand sisters use that very recipe to create their best-selling product.
In the last fiscal year alone, they baked 71,488 of the thin, golden-brown
treats and shipped to buyers across the country.

Hildegard is one of my favorites. It makes you think of home,” said Sister Lynn
Marie Falcony, a novice and one of the bakers.

newest member of the kitchen, postulant Roxanne Higgins, adds, “They’re just
flavorful because of all the spices, the cinnamon, the cloves, the nuts. It’s
just a really flavorful cookie.”

sisters sell baked goods to help support 144 community members and a dependent
monastery in Peru. The product line includes “Prayerful Pretzels” and eight
other kinds of cookies, including shortbread, ginger snap and the “springerle,”
a traditional German cookie embossed with a design.

atop a hill overlooking the small town of Ferdinand, the Monastery of the
Sisters of St. Benedict was founded in 1867. The sisters began making Hildegard
cookies when they discovered the recipe nearly 20 years ago.

addition to her cookie, St. Hildegard wrote hundreds of other medicinal remedies.
In many, the medieval saint attempts to cure ailments that she believed were caused
by man’s failure to live in harmony with nature. Her assurance of
interdependence predates the “integral ecology” found in Pope Francis’ “Laudato
Si'” encyclical.

background is in chemistry,” explained Higgins, “(so) what really strikes me
about her is her study of the medicinal properties of herbs and elements.”

Hildegard also is hailed as a mystic, prophetess, composer, poet and theologian.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI formally declared Hildegard a saint and named her a doctor
of the church. This title, which recognizes that a person contributed
significantly to church teaching, has been bestowed on only four women.

am inspired by her. She had so many qualities, she had so many gifts. She was
just a great woman of the church,” said Sister Romaine Kuntz, who has been part
of the Indiana monastery for 60 years.

sisters have made a few changes to the saint’s original prescription. “Spelt,”
an ancient grain common in the Middle Ages, is replaced by a combination of
wheat and barley flour. Rather than a rolling pin, they use an electric bakery sheeter
that passes the dough beneath a roll bar and presses it to an even thickness.

the technology has changed, the Benedictine tradition of prayer remains.

try and keep a pretty quiet atmosphere in our bakery so that our work and our
prayer meet,” Sister Falcony said.

with the sealing, there is a period of time that the sealer has to be on the plastic
bag to seal it,” said Sister Kuntz, describing the packaging process. “I found
out that ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’ is the perfect time for sealing these bags.
So each bag gets a prayer of ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph.'”

sisters made about 4,000 Hildegard cookies leading up to her feast day, Sept.
17. “She had an important message: Take care of yourself,” Sister Ballard
explained. “It’s really hard to serve other people if we’re not in good

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Note: Hildegard cookies can be ordered via the sisters’ website,

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