Hermit Cookies – A Pandemic Recipe

Since many of us are still living like good little hermits these days, I thought Hermits cookies would be a good topic for this weeks blog – which might also be my last blog for awhile depending on how well it goes with the new WordPress editor next week.  I didn’t like the new Block editor when I tried it last spring (see Blockheads post) and am not in the mood for a new learning curve.   Wordpress might think this is a good time to switch (or begin the migration as the Happiness Engineer called it), because we are all stuck at home, but call it computer fatigue or lockdown fatigue or whatever, I need less not more screen time right now.    

Back to the Hermits – Webster’s dictionary defines a hermit as:  “a) one that retires from society and lives in solitude especially for religious reasons : recluse,   b) a spiced cookie.

Hermits are an old-fashioned recipe dating back from to the mid-1800’s in North America, or even earlier, possibly originating in the hermitages of the middle ages.   They refer to any kind of spiced cookie containing dried fruit such a raisins, currants or nuts.  They may have white or brown sugar and come in either bar, square or drop cookie format.  They’re made from  ingredients you might already have in your pandemic pantry, which along with the addition of cinnamon, cloves and spices produces a soft cookie which keeps well.   Nutritionally, their sweetness comes from raisins and dates, and nuts are a good source of omega-3’s and protein. 

There are various theories about the origin of the name.   Some sources say they were called hermits because they looked like a hermit’s brown sack cloth, (the ones containing molasses).   Others say the spices become more distinct with age, making the cookies taste better if they have been hidden away like hermits for several days.   Very likely the oldest recipe goes back to the 12th or 13th century religious hermitages, where the basic ingredients would have been in common use at bakers’ tables.   The terms for those abodes— “hermite” from the Old French or “heremita,” from the medieval Latin — may have been assigned to this treat by their inhabitants.   Another possibility is that the Moravians, a German Protestant religious group known for their thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called “herrnhutter” in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like “hermits” to an English-speaking cook.   At any rate, they are spiced cookies based on raisins and nuts…..so let’s get to it!

My recipe today will be from my mother’s bible of country cooking, the Purity CookBook, first published by the Purity Flour Company in 1911.  Her edition dates from 1945 and is well stained, and is in fact held together with that old Canadian standard – duct tape.  

As well as main courses and desserts, it contains a large section on canning  vegetables and making various jams and jellies.   Nothing of course is low in fat or calories as those were not deemed important back then.   When it was re-issued in 2009, I bought a copy for myself, which you can see is still in quite pristine condition. 

Purity recipe cookbook new

Here’s the recipe:

Hermit cookie recipe

Hermit recipe

This did not make 5 dozen….more like 30 cookies….

and the ingredients…nothing fancy, although this version includes dates. 

Hermit cookie ingredients

I used butter instead of shortening, and not as much, 1/3 cup.   My Allspice container said it was a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, but allspice can also be a spice (from a plant berry) on its own.   If Allspice is not in your spice rack, Google has plenty of references for substitutes, including one on one cloves, but I find cloves strong, so best not to overdo it. 

 The finished product:

Hermit cookies

My mother was not much of a cookie baker, as my dad preferred pies and cakes, so I don’t remember her making these very often when I was growing up but I always enjoyed them when she did.  (She was more likely to make peanut butter or chocolate chip).    Back in the 1990’s, I worked at a rural hospital where the dietary department still made much of the hospital food from scratch.   Hermits were often on the cafeteria menu for morning coffee break, as were scones and homemade cinnamon buns.  I hadn’t had hermits in years, so imagine my delight on seeing them at the bakery in my  local grocery store last year.   They’re baked up fresh, although from a mix ordered in, according to one of the staff, and they have regular customers, mostly older folks like me who remember them from childhood.           

Hermit cookies Of the three versions I’ve sampled, they’ve all have been a bit different, mainly in the spices department, but I think the bakery’s is the best, and probably comparable in price to homemade, ($5.49 for 12 large cookies), nuts and raisins being fairly expensive here unless you go to one of those bulk bin places.  The key is the right combination of spices.  Despite buying two dozen from the bakery, we ran out before the next grocery run, so I had to resort to making them from scratch.   Mine did not taste the same as the last time I made them but I suspect my nutmeg was too old.   That would have required a trip to the store, and I’m more like a hermit crab these days, scurrying around doing my essential errands quickly so I can return to the safety of my own home. 

Hermit crab

Stay in your home and stay safe!

We all might be getting a little crabby these days from too much sheltering in place, but a sweet treat always helps!   Remember to savor – according to the Petsmart website, hermit crabs take small bites and eat very slowly, usually at night.   Enjoy! 

Postscript:   Do you have a favorite cookbook you use or may have inherited?


31 thoughts on “Hermit Cookies – A Pandemic Recipe

  1. Debbie says:

    Hermit cookies are lovely! But you’re right…everyone has a favourite recipe, all depending on the spice blend (and strength)–they are tricky if you’re fussy! And yes, cookies are perfect for pandemic stir-craziness!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave says:

    The further I read into your post the more familiar these cookies sounded to me. Sure enough – when I saw your first picture of the finished product I realized I’d had hermits before (just didn’t know their official name). Many a Sunday at our after-church social hour included hermits baked by one family or another. I wouldn’t say they’re my favorite – I prefer firmer cookies – but I love the mix of spices in the recipe (heading towards gingerbread). Are you familiar with the round red tins of Moravian cookies sold by Williams-Sonoma around Christmas? Thin, crunchy, and wonderfully spicy – holiday shapes. We’ve given them as gifts some years. Finally, I agree with your concerns with WP’s Block Editor (I prefer Classic) but I sure hope you don’t step away from your blog for long. Big fan of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I hadn’t even heard of Moravians period until I did some googling about the origin of the name. Their cookies sound intriguing. We don’t have Williams Sonoma here although I was in the Pottery Barn store once at the Eatons Centre and was impressed. Thanks for the compliment Dave. I won’t quit blogging, but maybe a bit of a small break away, or perhaps just not posting as much for the summer.


    • Joni says:

      Yes, certainly. I love raisins so it always amazes me how many people, esp. children, don’t like them! The key is in getting the spice mixture right – I should have tasted the batter more, (a bad thing to do I know because of the eggs), as my spices were too old.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Sadly, my weekly posts have dwindled to mostly photos/Wordless Wednesday. I have topics to blog about, but haven’t been inspired lately…..plus I’m dealing with a bit of back pain….self-inflicted….from trying to lift a patio table I wanted to paint, so too much sitting in front of the computer is not good. They are good, and I can convince myself they are nutritious too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • brilliantviewpoint says:

        Oh, I’m sorry about your back. One wrong move can set us back. I understand about inspiration, I’ve had a bit of trouble myself. Haven’t had good story ideas… but keep trying. Enjoy your Hermits, I’m still smiling. Given that you have been quiet, that was a clever and humorous post.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I’m sure my back will be better eventually, it’s just it’s gardening season and that will be out now too, so it’s putting me in a bad mood. It’s harder to find blog topics when you can’t get out and about and do anything. I’m happy I was able to make you smile!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jo Shafer says:

    I’ve not seen a hermit crab since . . . well, since we left Florida 40 years ago! Once as a child, I brought one home from the beach, planning to keep it as a pet in the garden. I tried to shake and shake the little creature out, but he was “stuck” inside. Daddy explained it was attached by a mucus thread (or something like that) and the shell kept in salt water with white sand nearby. He never scolded me, just let me learn from the experiment.

    As for hermit cookies, I’ve not made or eaten those in many a long year, either. I enjoyed reading the background history you related. Since today is a quieter day for me, I’ll raid my pantry for the ingredients and make a batch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I hope yours turn out Jo! I didn’t get my spice mixture quite right, and today when I went grocery shopping the bakery didn’t have any either as their oven was broken! I’ve never seen a hermit crab, and was surprised by my research that you can keep them as pets and that they shed their shells as they grow, and other smaller hermit crabs line up to inherit it. I hope they social distance!


  4. Ally Bean says:

    I like the look of these cookies. I enjoy anything with nutmeg in it, so I need to try these, when ingredients make themselves available to me. I have lots of old recipe books, but I like a Betty Crocker one from the 50s the best. It was a teacher’s edition and has some useful photos in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ruthsoaper says:

    I know what you mean about having to switch to the new editor. I am just now trying to figure it out. If I wasn’t doing my 55 things series I might just stop blogging. I do hope you stick with us though because I always enjoy your posts. I don’t know that I have ever had hermit cookies but I think my husband would love them. I have an old Betty Crocker cookbook that my mom bought me in the mid 1980’s when I moved out on my own. It doesn’t seem that old – but neither do I. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thank you for the compliment Ruth….and I always enjoy your posts too so I hope you stick with it too! I’m sure it’s learnable but I’m just not thrilled with the effort needed to do so. Linda switched a year ago, and kept at it, and retrospectively I should have to, but I wanted to make sure all the bugs were worked out of it first. We’ll have to muddle through it. Anything Betty Crocker is good!

      Liked by 1 person

      • ruthsoaper says:

        I’m sure I’ll keep at it especially since I started my 55 things series as a commitment to do 55 posts and I’m not even half way there yet. Linda was the smart one wasn’t she!?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Eilene Lyon says:

    So many wonderful things to comment about with this post. Where do I start? Well, you don’t want to hear my hermit crab story – too grim. I’ve been buying some delicious gluten-free oatmeal cookies with dried fruit, very soft, that remind me of these hermit cookies. Maybe I’ll try this recipe. My Betty Crocker cookbook also comes in handy as many others have mentioned.

    Mostly I sympathize with your WP woes and your back trouble (well, I don’t have back trouble, but am prone to self-injury). We shall visit again on the other side of this transition!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Linda Schaub says:

    These looked good Joni – and I would convince myself that the good ingredients constituted a healthy cookie. I’m not sure if I had these but they did remind me a little of scones, which my mom used to make. She made regular, triangle-shaped scones and sometimes a mini-variety … they looked similar to these. Very cute how you matched the cookies to our current respective situations. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Linda! Scones will be coming up in Junes, rhubarb scones, if I get around to making them! Looks like the hot humid weather is winding down and we’re back to cooler stuff. Hope you are getting out for walks still.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I’ve never had rhubarb scones – it sounds wonderful. My mom stewed her rhubarb with strawberries and we had it on toast, or biscuits, or ice-cream/frozen yogurt. I’m glad that heat and humidity is gone after tonight … the cooler weather suits me fine. Going to work out in the yard all weekend since it is cooler. I probably won’t be able to straighten up by Monday. I had 25 bags of cedar mulch delivered yesterday … I’ll forego any walks this weekend and get my steps around the yard instead. I heard next weekend will be really hot weather again.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. J P says:

    These sound good so long as the spices aren’t too strong. I’m on the fence on the raisins – odd because if you dip them in chocolate I’ll finish all that are set before me.

    The Fannie Farmer cookbook is an old standby in our house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      My spices weren’t too strong as they were too old, but you can adjust as you wish, and leave out the raisins too. What’s with all you raisin-haters! A raisin is simply a shriveled grape. As in wine, where it is a fermented crushed grape. It’s just a different format! The Fannie Farmer cookbook, that’s a classic too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. waywardsparkles says:

    I’m new to your blog and now I’m hungry for cookies. I’ve never heard of a hermit cookie before, but it sounds delicious. The recipe appears to be fairly straightforward too. If I cook or bake, the easier the better. I’m sorry to hear about your back pain. I’m always having to stretch or I get into trouble with my back. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your blogs. Mona

    Liked by 1 person

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