Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where's the Sage?

How many of you remember that 1980s Wendy's commercial where Clara Peller insists on knowing "Where's the Beef?" I remember it like it was yesterday, Wait!, it was yesterday!!! In the Fluffy Bun commercial, Clara Peller, a feisty elderly woman, gets just a little ticked off when she is served a huge hamburger bun and a teeny weeny hamburger at a competitor's hamburger "joint."

Clara Peller was 81 years young when she reached legendary fame in that $8 million dollar advertising campaign for Wendy's. Her ruffled face was on everything from T-Shirts to coffee mugs with a couple of greeting cards for good looks! It seemed like everyone got on the Where's the Beef kick!
Fast forward a few years, or more, to Sunday, November 20, 2011, less than a week before Thanksgiving. Marion and I decided a few weeks ago that we were going to have a quiet non-traditional Thanksgiving. Oh yes, there would be turkey with all the trimmings albeit, small on the turkey and even less on the trimmings. How much can two women eat after all? For those of you who may be new to this blog, Marion is a friend of mine from New York. A few years ago when I moved to Pennsylvania, I invited Marion to share my home with me. To my delight, she graciously accepted and we've been like two peas in a pod ever since:) This is a picture of her on her 91st birthday.

Every now and again, Marion receives phone calls from relatives in New York. Truth be told, we don't get many visitors though in our corner of the world. The last "big" visit we had was in July when my daughter and the kids came in from Idaho. It seemed like everyone came to visit our visitors! They did a bit of visiting too. Here they are with their Uncle John:)

You can imagine our surprise when Marion got a call from her grandson, this past Friday, saying that he and his pregnant wife were coming up to share Thanksgiving with us. Thankfully, we hadn't gone Thanksgiving Day food shopping yet. Our plan was to go on Sunday morning after church. And so we did. It wasn't really as chaotic as may be expected. Under "normal" circumstances there would be a long list of "must haves" and maybes? We stuck with the must haves and omitted the maybes altogether. I would love to say the whole shopping experience went over without a hitch but, no can do. It all stems around The Sage! Now that I look back on the morning, I suppose we should have gone into State College to go food shopping.

"Where's the Sage" I hear Marion questioning the produce person, as I'm squeezing a few lemons for the hummus. (we had decided on hummus for snacking on as we were cooking; pre guests:)

"It's in the produce section" I hear a young voice flippantly reply.

"Where's the Sage" I hear Marion saying again as if she was hard of hearing. She isn't. I sometimes think she hears better than I do. I know for sure she sees better than I do with my reading glasses on and her eyes bare:)

"Where's the Sage" she yells, again, with a notable sign of impatience in her voice. I make my way to the shopping cart where Marion is standing askew.

"What seems to be the problem?" I question politely?

"I can't find the sage" she replies with a tone of frustration in her voice. "And no one will help me" she adds.
Not to worry, I assure her. I have bundles of Sage drying in the garage. "We need fresh sage," she insists. "Let's look over there" I point to the small section of herb plants I spied by lettuce section. "There's no fresh sage here" she quips. Once again I reassure her that there's plenty of Sage in the garage hanging from the ceiling. I'd show them to her, and you as a matter of fact, if I could only get us both out of the produce aisle and back home...

Herb for the Wise

Close your eyes real tight and try to imagine a Thanksgiving without Sage. Chances are, you can't unless you don't celebrate Thanksgiving in your neck of the woods. In that case, imagine plump rich home made sausage links minus the Sage. You definitely can not if you're Marion. Marion attributes her enhanced memory to Sage. And, she's not the only one. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed Sage to be a memory stimulant. Arab physicians believed Sage extended life expectancy to the point of immortality! Another plus to Marion and the testament "He that would live foraye (forever) must eat Sage in May"

Marion also swears by this Sage and Peppermint Facial Steam. Try it when you're feeling all washed up and crinkly. You'll be delightfully amazed!
After washing your face, fill a large bowl with about 2 pints of boiling water and add 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped sage and 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped peppermint. Hold your head about 12 inches above the bowl and cover your head with a large towel to prevent the steam from escaping. After about 10 minutes, gently pat your face with a face cloth rinsed with cold water.
Now don't you feel like a new person!!! Here are a few more things I learned about Sage on our ride home.

  • Sage (salvia officinalis ), also called Red or Garden Sage, belongs to the Mint family.
  • There are more than 750 varieties of Sage but only a few are used in the kitchen.
  • The Romans used "the sacred herb" in their baths to ease aching muscles and sore, tired feet.
  • American Indians used it for medicinal purposes. They claimed it cured skin sores.
  • In the the early nineteenth century, Sage was used to disguise the flavor of spoiled meats.
  • Sage is a rich source of vitamin A.
  • It is said, that in 812 AD., Sage's medicinal properties were so important that Charlemagne ordered it planted on the imperial farms in Germany.
Have you heard the legend of the "Vinegar of the Four Robbers?" It goes something like this:
Story Of Four Thieves: During a terrible plague epidemic that swept through Europe, there were four robbers who became well-known for robbing houses of plague victims. Despite the enormous risk, they were able to resist falling ill. When they were finally caught and sentenced to death they were promised their freedom if they gave their secret for how they escaped from catching the deadly disease. The recipe they gave, which may be still be found in the archives of Toulouse,not only included the essential oil of Rosemary, it also contained Sage. They had compounded a vinegar steeped with sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary and several other aromatic herbs which, as we know now, are strong germicides. (Maurice Mességué's Way To Natural Health and Beauty ©1972 pg. 90)
"He who would live for aye Must eat sage in May." Old English Proverb.

From time immemorial sage has been renowned for its wonderful health-giving properties. The very name of the plant, Salvia, means health, and the Arabians have a proverb which was old in the days of Charlemagne: "How can a man die who has Sage in his garden?" The Chinese valued this herb so highly that the Dutch in old days carried on a profitable trade by exchanging sage for tea, and for one pound of dried sage leaves the Chinese gave three pounds of tea. The proper time of year to eat sage or to drink sage tea is in spring, and formerly country folk used to eat quantities of it with bread and butter or bread and cheese. There is an old belief that where sage prospers in a garden the woman rules, and another that the plant flourishes or withers according to the prosperity of the master of the house.
The health benefits of this native Mediterranean shrub are documented by many sources. The English herbalist, Gerard wrote, "Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members." Steeped in folklore or steeped in tea, Sage symbolizes domestic virtue, wisdom, skill, esteem, long life, good health and in some cases, increased psychic powers. It's no wonder that the International Herb Association awarded Sage the title "Herb of the Year" in 2001. (Horseradish is the Herb of the Year for 2011 and next year, we'll be celebrating Roses:)

In the kitchen, not only does Sage infuse a depth of earthy fragrance to stuffings and dressings, the sweet savory flavor of Sage compliments dried bean dishes, stews, sauces, roasted meats and fish dishes. It has a digestive affinity to rich and fatty foods. It is often used with pork, goose and duck. Sage is used as a flavoring in a cheese called Sage Derby. (pronounced "darby")
Sage Derby

Sage Derby is a cheddar type gourmet cheese made using leaf sage for flavor, and colored using chlorophyll (plant coloring) to give a green marbled finish. The finely chopped sage leaf gives a subtle extra flavor. Sage Derby is matured for around 12 weeks as per mild cheddar. (source)
I can tell you from my own experience, Derby cheese makes for an interesting quiche:)
Sage used to be held in such repute that both bread and cheese were flavoured with it in the making, and one herbal doctor even advocated its use instead of tobacco. Red sage is rarely seen, but what a handsome plant it is when well grown! There are few leaves more beautiful than its deep maroon-coloured ones, especially in early spring when they contrast so well with the tender green of the young shoots. Old-fashioned country folk say that red sage never does well unless the original slip were planted by some one with a "lucky hand."
Below is the recipe for Crispy Sage Leaves with Aioli pictured above. It was harvested from one of my favorite herb magazines; Herb Companion (Nov. 2007) I hope I have inspired you to find room in your pantry for Sage. Enjoy:)
Crispy Sage leaves with Aioli
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

1. Another Clara Peller ad (in this one she's driving a car:)
2. TV Commercials We All Remember
3. A Garden of Herbs: Being a Practical Handbook to the Making of an old English Herb Garden... by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde (1922) @googlebooks
4. The Nutrition of Sage
5. Myths About the Sage Herb
6. Legend of the Sage Plant (A Christmas Story)
7. How to Harvest Sage (it doesn't seem like this blog is still updating but the descriptive pictures are worth the trip!)
8. Top image courtesy Herb Companion
1. Sage Cheese Appetizer (savory combination of sage, garlic and cheese)
2. Walnut Sage Cheese Crisps ("a nice party cracker.")
3. Pineapple Sage Pound Cake (Pineapple Sage makes a lovely flower garden plant. The crimson flowers and pineapple sage scented leaves bring lots of butterflies and hummingbirds:)
4. Roasted Butternut Squash Polenta with Fresh Sage
5. Sage Cheese recipe (1857)
6. Derby Sage Parsnips


  1. What a lovely post - Great tips and info on sage!!

  2. Happy Thanksgiving, Louise! Now, you've got me wondering "Where's the Sage Derby?" I've never tasted that cheese before. I guess the "greenness" put me off a bit, but now that I know it's all about sage, I'm all over it! Hope it's a wonderful meal, and that the sage was located! T.W.

  3. Fascinating! Thanks, Marion & Louise for the education. I love sage, and marvel at my mother inlaw who orders her fresh sausage "unseasoned". Hem. Doesn't that make it ground pork?

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Marion looks very young, being 91yrs young! I love sage, but am not successful at growing this herb! Tried a few times, each time, the plants was infested by a small lice-like black bugs. And strange thing is, these bugs do not seem to like other plants except sage! After a couple of tries, I gave up!
    Thanks for the wonderful info on sage! Knew some of it, but now I know a whole lot more! Thanks! :)

  5. I loved this post dear Louise and I want whish you a nice and fun Thanksgiving with your family!!:)Thanks for all Luise, for be my friend and like you are:)

  6. that's a very good and succeesful ad on wendy's. YOu must now be very busy preparing for the coming thanksgiving feasts and your guests! I hope you have all the ingredients ready now so that marion wont be repeating the same question again. have fun and happy thanksgiving to you, Louise!

  7. Dear Louise, Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving. Catherine xo

  8. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  9. I'm here! Great post!
    My sage was beautiful this year and you are right you need it to have a perfect stuffing.
    I had to re join you;somehow your blog disappeared from those i follow.

  10. i never thought i'd learn so much about sage in my life! for the record, that derby sage is probably the most beautiful and picturesque cheese i've ever seen!

  11. Louise, u always make me love your blog deeper and more. I appreciate the work you put into your detailed posts. I am sage fan, we have it growing in our garden in Austria but not in India. I totaly miss this herb in my cooking because I cant use anything instead of it. Its taste is just too unique. Thanks for refreshing my memory with Salvias history. I totaly understand why your friend needs fresh one and not dried! ;)

  12. That sage steam sounds very reviving! I'll have to give it a try before the sage dies back for winter.

  13. My goodness that was a fun post. If there's one thing that gets me excited it's herbs. I need to get on the sage band-wagon because I could use some memory boost for sure! I've never had a sage facial before either. I shall do some snipping in my sage pot and see how well I go. Thank you for the fantastic post. I really loved it.

  14. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and Marion enjoyed her visit with her grandson. It is a joyous holiday (especially so to me, because no one needs presents!)!

  15. So, I'm dying of curiosity -- did you ever find the sage that Marion was looking for?

  16. What a fun post, Louise! (And nice to see a photo of Marion)
    I've never heard of sage derby...and you can bet I'm going to look in the cheese shop when next I visit.

  17. I love sage, and I even love the way it photographs. Great post!

  18. Crispy sage leaves are positively divine! I could eat all 40 of them in that recipe. And I would love to try that cheese! Hope you and Marion had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  19. My fresh sage turned into dried sage sitting in the refrigerator. I was most grateful that it turned into something useful rather than moldy when I neglected it! The cheese is gorgeous--wouldn't it look great on a plate with some cranberries at Christmas time?

  20. Thanks, Jan. Glad you liked it!

    We found our Sage, T.W. Now you go find some Sage Cheese. You're gonna love it!

    Glad you enjoyed it, SissySees:)

    I'm so sorry you're having such a time growing Sage, kitchen flavours. Have you tried it from seed? Sometimes those plants you buy in nurseries and home improvement places are doomed from the start. And be sure the Sage you are growing is indeed, Salvia officinalis. There are hundreds of varieties of Sage and many of them are not culinary. The only other suggestion I can think of is for you to plant garlic in the same hole as the Sage. Garlic is a wonderful bug repellent especially if those buggies of yours are aphids! Please try just one more time, Joyce:)

    Thank you Gloria. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I wish you could have seen it! You are such a gem:)

    Thanks Lena. I'm still stuffed from Thanksgiving:)

  21. Thank you, Catherine. May you have a Blessed season too:)

    I hope you did too, duckie. Congratulations on your new book!!!

    So glad you "re-found" me again, Rita! Sage is highly underrated. Have you ever tried growing Pineapple Sage? The flowers are delicate and the fragrance is divine. It too is used in cooking.

    You have no idea how happy I am to hear that, Grace. Thank you:) I do hope you will give the Derby Cheese a try.

    And I appreciate your kind words, Helene. Thank you:) You are so right. There just isn't a substitute for sage. In a pinch, Savory works sometimes:) Next year I'll just have to send you some from my garden before I dry it!!!

    I can tell you from personal experience, Foodycat. It's like your very own mini sauna. Please let us know how it goes:)

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, If I were not blogging about monthly celebrations, herbs would be next on the list! I am so glad you enjoyed this post, Pam. It was FUN to do too!!!

    Lol, no presents and lots of delicious food, it sure doesn't get much better than that, Marjie!

    I did a post about Marion a while back. I guess I should have linked to it for those who have never met her. Thanks Barbara. I'll add it. Check out that Derby Cheese and please let us know what you think!

    Leave it to you to consider the photographic qualities of Sage, Yummy. Thanks for that:)

    The crispy sage leaves are really a treat, Reeni. Who would have thought they would be so delectable!

    What a GREAT idea, Inger. I can just see that gorgeous Derby Cheese basking in cranberries!!! Thanks! And, as for that spoiled sage, I've been known to throw mine into the compost every now and again, lol...

  22. What a lovely story & what a lovely read this was!

    That Derby cheese is looking wonderful too! Yummie recipes too! ;)


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise