I don’t believe I have featured sage in any previous posts, so it is definitely time that I gave it some blog space. Common sage (Salvia officinalis ) has a long history of both medicinal and culinary use in the Old World. An Universal Etymological English Dictionary, by Nathan Bailey (1675) described it thus:
SAGE: a sweet-smelling, wholesome Herb, comfortable to the Brain and Nerves, purifying the Blood, good for Wounds, &c.
In fact, it is difficult to think of a disease or condition for which sage has not been recommended across the centuries, although nowadays it is primarily a culinary herb - and without doubt, its best-known use is in stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer) for pork or poultry. I can hardly imagine an English Sunday dinner of roast pig or chicken without sage and onion stuffing – and it should probably be illegal to serve it that way. On the off-chance that you are not familiar with this English staple, I give you the following instructions:
Sucking-pig may be either roasted or baked. If roasted, it must be put down at a distance from the fire, and should be basted with oil, dripping, or lard. The pig is always stuffed with some kind of stuffing containing sage. A good Receipt for which is to take a quarter of a pound of crumbs of bread, one onion, a small handful of sage, a raw egg, and a small piece of butter; these should be well mixed together with a little pepper and salt. Then fill the belly of the pig, and sew up with a common needle and thread. Another plan is to cut a round of bread thick, as for toast, brown it very lightly, and butter it, then soak it in some water in which a handful of sage and an onion have been boiled, cut it into long pieces, and lay it in the belly, with alternate layers of the boiled sage leaves, but no onion, after which it is to be closed as above. A pig about a month old will take from an hour and three quarters to two hours; and if two weeks older, another hour. After taking it from the spit cut the head off, and leave the body in the dripping-pan. Then divide the head longitudinally, and take out the brains for sauce; after which, return it to the dripping-pan. When the sauce is made, divide the body down the middle, and lay the two halves back to back, with half the head at each end. The sauce is made by chopping the brains up very finely with boiled sage, and mixing with some good plain stock, or the gravy made from the dripping-pan. Some made gravy should also be served with it.
The English cookery book, receipts collected by a committee of ladies,
and ed. by J. H. Walsh (1859)
And now for some more unusual ideas for sage:
Sage-Wine, very good.
To twenty-eight Pounds of Malaga Raisins pick'd and shred, have twenty-eight Quarts of Spring-Water well boil'd, but let it be cool as Milk from the Cow, before you pour it on the Raisins; then put in half a Bushel of Red Sage grosly shed; stir all together, and let it stand six Days, stirring it very well every Day, and cover it as close as you can; then strain it off, and pour it into your Vessel; it will soon be fine, but you may add two Quarts of Sack or White-wine to fine it: Raisins of the Sun will do as well as Malaga, if they cannot be had.
A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery: For the Use of All Good Wives, Tender Mothers, and Careful Nurses,
by Mary Kettilby (1734)
A plain Sage Cheese. Bruise the tops of young red sage [Salvia miltiorrhiza] in a mortar, till you can press the juice out of them; bruise likewise some leaves of spinage, and having squeezed out the juice, mix it with that of the sage to render it of a pleasant green colour, which the juice of the sage alone will not make it, and this will also allay the bitter taste of the sage.
Having prepared the juice, put the rennet to the milk, and at the same time mix with it as much of the sage, &c. juice as will give the milk the green colour you desire, putting in more or less of the sage juice to that of the spinage juice, according as you would have the cheese taste stronger or weaker of the sage.
When the curd is come, break it gently, and when it is all equally broken, put it into the cheese vat or mote, and press it gently, which will make it eat tender and mellow: when it has stood in the press about eight hours it must be salted.
A Sage Cheese in Figures. To do this you must be provided with two cheese vats of the same size, and the milk must be set to turn in two different vessels; one part with plain rennet only, and the other with rennet and sage juice. These must be made as you would do two distinct cheeses, and put into the presses at the same time. When each of these cheeses have stood in the press for half an hour, take them out, and cut some square pieces or long slips out of the plain cheese, and lay them by on a plate; then cut the same number of pieces out of the sage cheese of the same figure and size, and immediately put the pieces of the sage cheese into
the the places that you cut out of the plain cheese, and the pieces cut out of the plain cheese into the places cut out of the sage cheese; for this purpose some have a tin plate made into figures of several shapes, by which they cut out the pieces of the cheeses so exactly, that they fit without any trouble. Having done this, they put the cheeses into the presses again, and manage them like common cheeses; and so there will be one sage cheese with white or plain figures in it, and another a white cheese with green figures in it.
Great care must be taken that the curd be very equally broke, and also that both the cheeses be pressed as equally as it is possible before the figures are cut out, or otherwise when they come to be pressed for the last time, the figures will press unequally, and lofe their shapes. These cheeses should be made not above two inches thick; for if they are thicker, it will be more difficult to make the figures regular.
These cheeses must after they are made be frequently turned and shifted on the shelf, and often rubbed with a coarse cloth. They will be fit to be eaten in about eight months.
Every Woman Her Own House-keeper; Or, The Ladies' Library: Containing the Cheapest and Most Extensive System of Cookery Ever Offered to the Public. ...
Also, The Family Physician; Or, A Complete Body of Domestic Medicine,
by John Perkins (1796)
Sage is considered a sovereign herb by John Gerard - with roses and angelica it's good for all inward and outward parts of the body physical
Interesting about sage, the great Elizabeth David didn't like it, writing that its scent reminded her of "dried blood". I don't get that, and agree it goes great with certain roasts and poultry. (Maybe there was too much stale dried sage in the larders during and after WW II, hard to say). She noted that Italians use it in cooking (with liver I think) but the French very little although I've seen at least one French country recipe that calls for "le sauge".
Sage is my favourite herb. (I consider onions and garlic to be vegetables, not seasonings) I probably overuse it, but honestly, I think it adds a bit of most meat dishes. Allegedly burning sage leaves will purify your house and remove any negative influences.
Hi Gary and Kate. I love fresh sage (especially in brown butter) but am not so keen on the dried.
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