Monday, October 21, 2013


 Sage grows like weeds in Europe. Plant a pot of sage in a terra cotta pot on a sunny balcony or tucked into the dirt just one step outside the kitchen door, the plants take root, and flourish. Wild sage clings to roadsides and makes country paths its home, swelling and sweeping like the skirt of a bridesmaid’s gown.

 A terrace in Milan overflowing with decorative pots, a stretch of green field sidling up to sliding glass doors in Nerviano, at the bottom of the steps in a Parisian backyard, a narrow strip of balcony in stone and ironwork in Nantes; tiny plants cupped between two hands and enormous brushes of sage flowing; leaves tiny and delicate, leaves vast and plump. Thriving.

 Just a step outside, a hand stretched out a window, no exertion at all, I pluck a leave or three from the plant, pinch just at the base of the willowy stem. I cradle a handful of leaves in my palm delicately or drop them one by one into my apron gathered up into a makeshift basket. Rosemary, hardier, unyielding, more resistant to my touch, must be snipped off with scissors before joining the sage. Sage being so much more willing to follow me into the kitchen and become some divine creation. Feathery soft to rosemary’s spiky, prickly personality.

 I knew nothing of sage in my Florida youth. No sage grew in the dry, arid, swelteringly hot land of lemons, watermelon and mangoes. Flecks of dark colored the packs of breadcrumb dressing opened, soaked in broth and used to stuff the yearly Thanksgiving bird. A pinch of dried, faded and crisp, tossed into an omelet, always paired with rosemary and thyme, a college girl’s automatic reflex, jars lined up on the shelf near the stove.

 It was a tussle, a battle of wills to choose the colors for those walls. Our first home and we could do anything we liked, paint it a riot of color if we wanted to and we did, finally reaching compromise. Raspberry for the dining room, charcoal and moss green for the family room, red and white in the kitchen. The living room boasted a shockingly wide expanse of wall and another of window, the one greedily soaking in the brilliant sunlight that flowed in from the other. Even when the days were grey, the skies pewter, even when the windows were spattered with rain and the wind howled, that room seemed joyous and bright.

 We paired a deep, emotionally wrought, wildly vibrant burnt orange with a softly opulent, quietly subdued sage. When the sun swept through the room, those orange walls cried out in fury or flaunted a pumpkin enthusiasm, yet retained its holy orangeness through thick and thin. The sage walls, as opposite in personality as in position, glowed like a bashful schoolgirl winning a prize. Suffused with light, the walls flushed a golden warmth. When the sun moved across the room, as the day waned, the walls were permeated with muted sage.

 The philosophical sages told us that sage is good for a plethora of diseases. “Three spoonfuls of the Juice of Sage” is a cure-all or Sage boiled in water or honey makes an efficient gargle. “Decoctions” made with sage and wine and “fomented” on the body will take away every pain. Entrepreneurial sages brewed pots of sage for tea and sold it to the Chinese. Governmental sages ordered the planting of sage in royal gardens for cooking, medicinal uses and lucrative trade. Culinary sages discovered how well sage flavored meats and stews and brought it into the kitchen forever.

“There lived a sage in days of yore,
 And he a handsome pigtail wore;
 But wondered much and sorrowed more
 Because it hung behind him.”
- William Makepeace Thackeray

 Soyez sages, les enfants! French grandmothers urge little French grandchildren everywhere. With the sharp shake of a finger and a nod of the head, an amused grin playing on the lips. Little heads bobbing, eyes wide, innocence spread across faces.

 Sois sage! Fait pas de bêtises! This lighthearted warning from parent to child to behave, be a good child, not to get into mischief can be heard morning, noon and night in every French home. The expectation, the admonition, the warning lies smoldering just underneath the surface: “Study hard, behave in school, follow the rules and listen to your elders” swathed in humor and kind words.

 Sois sage! From lover to lover, wife to husband, husband to wife, a peck on the cheek as the one shows the other out the door. Sois sage! Behave! The phrase hangs between the two of them, part recommendation, part sage counsel, part warning, half playful teasing, half implied judgment. Eyes meet, daring the other to lean in the wrong direction, forcing an innocent grin. Sois sage! 

 Sage comme une image! As good as gold. Or maybe just a dot too good… is the innocence exuded for real or simply a front, a painted face? Sage comme une image! Seen and not heard. The picture of innocence. As still and quiet as a photograph.

Warm and tender, scones are best known as teatime snacks slathered with butter, jam and clotted cream. Added a flavorful smoked cheese and pairing it with sage and spring onions, creates a wonderful treat to accompany a soup or salad lunch, a grilled meat dinner or a cheese and salumi platter for a scrumptious late afternoon wine party. Sage scones will work wonderfully with any full-flavored hard cheese such as cheddar, smoked cheeses or nutty gruyère, comté or similar.


3 cups (380 g) all purpose flour or 3 ¼ cups (390 g) pastry/cake flour
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup (45 g) non-fat dry milk powder or buttermilk powder
¾ tsp salt
1 Tbs baking powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (150 ml) milk, buttermilk or water *
8 Tbs (120 g) cold butter
3-4 tsp sage leaves, chopped
9-10 tbs grated smoked cheese
1-2 trimmed and thinly sliced spring onion/scallions, optional

1 egg beaten with 1 tsp cold water for egg wash
More grated smoked cheese or grated Parmesan cheese for topping

* Milk gives slightly richer scone, buttermilk a slightly more tender, higher-rising scone with a touch of tang.

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Line one or two baking sheets with parchment.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients, including the chopped sage, grated cheese and sliced spring onion. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla until well blended.

Cut the cold butter into cubes. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients using only the tips of your fingers, or cut the butter in using a pastry cutter – this fat between the thin layers of flour is what gives the light, tender, flaky texture to the scone. Work quickly and rub until the mixture resembles course sand, but making sure you stop before the butter is completely rubbed in (there should still be tiny pieces of butter).

Add the lightly beaten eggs and gently blend into the flour/butter mixture, avoiding over mixing or kneading; stir just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Over working this dough will give you tough scones.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and fold and gather it together just until it homogeneous. Cut the dough into two pieces and push each into a roundish shape. Place each piece of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and gently and lightly press or roll into a disk about 7” (about 18 cm) and ½” (1 cm) thick – no thinner.

With a sharp knife, slice each disk into 8 wedges, gently pushing the wedges apart to separate. Alternately, use a round biscuit cutter to cut out thick rounds of dough.

Brush each scone with the egg wash, then sprinkle with grated cheese. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 7 minutes. At the end of the 7 minutes, turn the oven off and, without opening the oven door, leave the scones in the oven for an additional 8 – 10 minutes until golden brown.

The scones are best hot from the oven or warm.

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  1. A herb which I very much appreaciate - especially since I have English blood running through my veins... Those scones look marvelous and must be very flavorful. Another great post!

    Happy Monday!



  2. My mom always loved this herb and I've really come to enjoy it in the last few years. Between this post and Katie's (, I'm getting very sad thinking of all the herbs in my old garden and here I have none.

  3. Lovely as always! And the scones, another Jamie/Ilva collaboration, are lovely too!

  4. Besides my sage planted for culinary uses, I have wild sages in the garden, some with red blossoms, others with maroon, and I am planning for more. They bloom almost all year long here in California, need almost no care, and thrive in any soil. The bees love them and I love to watch the bees, a bonus in our apiary-mad neighborhood. Last week my son made a dinner for me -- a tribute to Marcella Hazan -- and cooked her recipe for sauteed chicken with fresh sage and white wine; it was so delicious. Thanks for the tribute, Jamie and Ilva!

  5. Another brilliant collaboration - a celebration my dears! Each paragraph leading to an photo with a story and beauty all it's own. I bow to the sages on these pages!

  6. Wonderful you two sage ladies ;D
    Love the Thackery quote - perfect!

  7. Poetic photos, poetic words. I am loving your collaboration ladies. At this time of year, I like to make a chick pea and chestnut soup that is fragrant with sage. It makes me think of the misty hills of Abruzzo and Umbria in autumn and the smell of smoke that permeates the small hilltop towns. These scones would go nicely with that soup. Thanks for the inspiration.