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Celebrate Sage as Herb of the Year

Sage
By Pamela Slover Percival

Sage is no longer just for seasoning Thanksgiving turkey and dressing, or pork sausage. So say the members of the International Herb Association, who have declared sage the "Herb of the Year." The association, a group of herb growers, retailers, manufacturers and researchers, highlights a different herb each year to help educate the public.

Two Texas members of the herb association, Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay, will be celebrating the usefulness of sage as part of their annual spring herbal events at the International Festival-Institute in Round Top, Texas, through May. They hosted a special seminar, "Celebrate Sage! Herb of the Year 2001," on March 14.

The mother-daughter team of Hill and Barclay, authors of Southern Herb Growing, are nationally renown for their expertise with herbs, both in the kitchen and the garden. Their annual herbal forum, held this year on March 24, is traditionally a sell-out that attracts about 300 people who come to learn more about growing, using and cooking with herbs. This year the women featured sage on their luncheon menu, as well as at teatime, to offer visitors tastings of different foods made using sage.

"If you don't cook with sage, you're missing a lot," Barclay said. "Sage is a herb we consider as part of the Mediterranean group, which also includes rosemary, thyme and oregano, herbs which we use together a lot. All of these herbs hold up well for long cooking, like on a turkey or whole chicken or in a soup or beans." The sage especially adds depth of flavor.

When she adds fresh sage to dishes such as soup or beans, Barclay said she puts in a whole sage branch, then removes it when the dish is finished cooking. The same approach will work with fresh thyme. "The little leaves cook off, then you can pull the branch out with tongs or a slotted spoon."

Sage and its Mediterranean cousin, rosemary, are very versatile in the kitchen, Hill said. "They have two lives -- you can either cook them long at lower temps, as when roasting meats or making soups, or use smaller amounts and add them at the last minute to foods with more delicate flavors, like squash."

Besides the traditional sage often used for poultry seasoning, several other varieties are useful in the kitchen. Two sweeter varieties, pineapple sage and honey melon sage, are more delicate so they can't stand up to long cooking at high temperatures. "You can add them to cut-up fruit to serve as an appetizer or to salads," Barclay suggested.

Some herbs, such as the pineapple sage, cilantro and basil, have oils that are released at very low temperatures, sometimes as low as 85 degrees. Since they lose their flavor if cooked for a long time or at sustained high temperatures, recipes must be adjusted to accommodate their use, Barclay said. For example, with Vietnamese cuisine, a plate of delicate herbs such as cilantro, basil and mint is often served with lettuce, cucumbers and pickled carrots for the diner to roll up together. "Or they'll serve those herbs with soups, and each diner is expected to add as much of each of the herbs as they want to their own bowl," Barclay explained.

Herb trends

Though Hill and Barclay are spotlighting sage as the herb of the year for 2001, different herbs have been trendy at various times in the United States.

Oregano was the first popular herb after World War II, with soldiers coming back here who had served in the Mediterranean area," Hill said. "They were introduced to oregano in pizzas, spaghetti sauce, etc., there." Basil was probably the herb of the 1980s, and then cilantro took over in the 1990s. "I would have to say rosemary has become very popular in the 2000s," Barclay added.

People who have so far missed out on these herb trends could start cooking with herbs by adding them to a favorite recipe, Barclay advised. "People should start with a recipe that they already do, like a casserole or soup, and add herbs to the dishes that they already prepare. That way they're not working with total unknowns. But always use a light touch; don't overpower it."

Cookbook Review:
Southern Herb Growing
Southern Herb Growing

Cream of Chicken Soup aux Fines Herbs

From Southern Herb Growing, Shearer Publishing, Fredericksburg, Texas
  • 1 frying chicken, cut up (about 3 lbs.)
  • 4-6 cups water or broth
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup sliced or shredded carrots
  • 2 teaspoon dried marjoram or 2 tablespoons fresh
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage or 2-3 teaspoons fresh
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoon fresh
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 to 1 cup cooked rice
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste
  • Parsley for garnish
Put first 10 ingredients in a large kettle and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from broth and vegetables. Cool chicken until it can be handled; remove skin and bones; cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Skim excess fat from broth. In a large saucepan, melt butter and blend in flour. Cook until bubbling and stir in milk, half-and-half, nutmeg and turmeric. Heat until smooth and thickened. Slowly add to broth and vegetable mixture, stirring constantly. Add rice, salt, pepper and chicken. Heat to simmering over medium heat. Add salt and white pepper, to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley to serve. Makes 2-1/2 quarts.

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