There is an old Scotch proverb that if the sage bush flourishes than the woman rules the roost. Sexist yes! But there is probably a climatic basis. Sage doesn’t like wet feet. My own experience of Scotland is that it rains a lot. (Hence the lovely rhododendrons of the west coast) Therefore the sage is unlikely to be happy.
I also question the veracity of the proverb. We had three houses before we shifted here. In two the sage did well. In the other it struggled. Same aspect, same care, different microclimate. As far as I could tell there was no change in our relationship. Here, Anne is now the gardener. The bush grows well. That’s all I can say.
The herb sage is of Mediterranean origin used from the beginning for culinary and medical purposes. The Ancient Egyptians applied it as a fertility drug. Now with its light peppery flavour it is mainly used in the kitchen though I think it adds colour and character to the garden. Certainly it is one the first essentials I’d plant in a new herb garden. It needs replacing every four or five years.
Its main use is in stuffing but while accepting its strong flavour I think its too good to be used only for that purpose. I used to marinade chicken breasts in a mixture of lemon juice, garlic and sage before cooking. Quick-fried whole sage leaves go well with sausage and fried potato.
A recipe that Anne and I have used for a long time now is sage butter on steak or lamb. It is simple to make. To butter add finely chopped fresh sage leaves and a little onion oil. (We get this by placing a few pieces of onion in a garlic press and squeezing). Mix throughly. The recipe can be adapted to use parsley and garlic instead.
Earlier this week Anne bought four little fillet steaks. On Friday night she cooked two which we had with a lavish spread of freshly made sage butter, asparagus (what a lovely seasonal treat), mashed potato and fried mushrooms. I cut my steak in half to have space to allow the addition of more of the special butter.
Last night she cooked the other two. The little sliced mushrooms again, a few potato slices baked in the oven and a fresh vegetable salsa (cucumber, onion, yellow pepper and parsley). Yum again!
She asked what I would like tonight. ‘Old-fashioned mince on toast’ I said. From the superb to the comfortable. That’s not a bad switch.
I add for the benefit of any new reader we used to take cooking week and week about. Now with my ill-health I’ve had to give that away.
Words - Douglas McLennan
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