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