Monday, November 22, 2010

Sage Advice

Thanksgiving is upon us, and soon the fragrances of turkeys roasting, pumpkin pies baking, and the scents of spice and herb will be wafting through neighborhoods. It is time to share some sage advice.

Many years ago when I established my own home, and started delving into some major cooking, I was always a bit disappointed in the dressing that I made because it never quite tasted like I remembered from my childhood.  But being young and "innocent", and taking the easiest route at the time, I kept buying the convenient ready-blended poultry seasoning that is available to all on our grocery store shelves, because quite frankly, that was what my Mom had always done, never questioning, never delving into just what went into that can. Blind trust. .rather naive of me, what can I say. .with age comes wisdom.

Over the years, I varied my dressing recipe, tweaking it until it had my own signature taste, but I still was never quite pleased with it, but began to think that as some childhood memories do, I was remembering it in more romantic terms, than it actually was.

Aren't These Graphics More Fun To Look At?
Then, somewhere in the past, I was reintroduced to the spice tins of my youth, and before. .vintage spice containers.  As a child, I was always fascinated by the various graphics that they used. I guess it is the "artist" in me, but whenever my Mom or Grammies would cook or bake, I would study the drawn pictures on the herb and spice containers.  I started looking for the tins I remembered, which immediately transports me down memory lane, and have also added some that I never got to enjoy before, which adds to the allure of the hunt.

They originally came in cardboard, which we now know today, doesn't keep them fresh for very long. .but let's be real. .the tins of herbs and spices today are either so loaded with additives to preserve them, and/or are also past their prime.

Herbs & Spices Used Traditionally in Autumn, have a tendency to be packaged in Orange!
One of my favorite tins is cardboard, with a metal top and bottom, and just happens to be "poultry seasoning". And, it is the very brand that my Grammie used!  Yes, it is still full, and no, I haven't used it. I did carefully slide the top open, and yes, the fragrance is long gone.  Sadly there isn't a year on the tin.

But, it does list the ingredients!  Sage, Marjoram, Pepper, Celery Seed, Coriander, Allspice, Savory, and Salt. 

And how does that compare with today's ingredients in poultry seasoning? Like a lot of things, each manufacturer has their own touch.

McCormicks uses Thyme, Sage, Marjoram, Rosemary, Black Pepper and Nutmeg.

Durkees prefers not to readily share their ingredients which makes me suspicious. Like I said, with age, comes wisdom.

Frontier Brand has two blends.  Their regular blend is Sage, Thyme, Dehydrated Onion, Marjoram, Black Pepper, Celery Seed, and Cayenne. 
Their organic blend consists of all organic ingredients as stated. Sage, Thyme, Dehydrated Onion, Black Pepper, Marjoram, Celery Seed and Red Pepper.

So my suggestion to you, is to do what I have done for years. Ditch the handy little pre-mixed stuff and make your own!  Delve into the fragrant world of herbs, and let your nose lead you into culinary heaven. 

I grow as many herbs as I can, mostly in pots so that I can bring them inside during winter, but I have a number of sages in the ground that winter over just fine.  I clip the leaves and dry them each Autumn, crumbling them and storing them in an air tight ceramic jar, to keep out light.  So keep that in mind next Spring, when planting season rolls around!
In the meantime, buy the individual herbs, either at an herbalist, or if you must, from the shelves of the grocery store, but buy the smallest tin you can find. Their shelf life isn't very long, no matter what the date on the can says.

Start with a 1/2 teaspoon of sage, and add a 1/4 of a teaspoon of the other ingredients, choosing from the lists above. .blend them together in a glass or pottery bowl, and take a gentle sniff!  Smell the individual ingredients to see if you would like to add more. (take a breath of fresh air in-between) I will suggest taking notes so that you can duplicate your favorite blend in the future.  This won't take as long as it is for me to write it all out, so don't think that you need a big block of time, unless you find it relaxing, in which case, take all of the time you want!

There may be some herbs that you won't be able to find in your grocery store anymore, such as Savory.  In that case, you can always turn to the internet and order some.  One source that I absolutely love is the Spice and Tea Exchange.  (thanks to my friend, Pam, who discovered their shop while on vacation in Florida! Thanks, Pammie!!!) You can order small amounts or larger ones, they ship quickly, and the ingredients are always very fresh and fragrant.
Here is the link to their Savory, just for ease in an introduction to the site.

Once you start making your own blend, you will never go back to the prepared stuff again, and don't be surprised if your family and friends will be asking for your recipe, or want to know what you did differently, because your stuffing will be declared the best ever!

Oh. .and if you make the traditional bread stuffing, do something that neither my Mom, nor my Grammies apparently never thought to do, but is SO good. .add a slice or two of dark pumpernickel bread to the mix. .not too much, because you don't want to overpower your seasonings or veggies, & mushrooms, only to enhance them.

Let me know if you tried your own seasoning blend, and how it came out! I'd love to hear what you used!

Wishing you all a beautiful and joyous Thanksgiving!


  1. Oh I can smell it...yuuuuuuummmmmmmy. So ready for some real cooking and baking this week. I am so with you my own blends..but have not made this one!! Will give it a try.
    How are ya hon? Hugs and love, Sarah

  2. Wise advice! Or, dare I say it, SAGE advice! LOL! Nothing smells better than stuffing and your tips are great!

  3. You make me hungry. I love all of the wonderful smells while baking for the holidays. Makes the house so warm and cozy. You are so right, nothing tastes like it did when you were a child. I still remember eating leftover dressing for breakfast when I was a child, couldn't get enough of it. Wishing you a beautiful day!


  4. Great post! And wonderful pics. Really took me back to my childhood. I can remember seeing my mother mix the spices she would need for whatever dish she was making.
    I never buy spices at the grocery store but prefer to 'mix my own' (that somehow sounds kinda strange...) from spices I get at the local health food store.

  5. Wonderful & sage advice! I plant and dry my own herbs. I know what I'm getting that way! My mom still has some herbs from my grandmother I'll have to see what's in those blends. :)

  6. I too have ever so recently discovered the "joy of cooking" with different "fresh" or as fresh as I can get them.....spices. It is a very "Goode" thing...LOL. I also discovered that great little spice and tea shop in Florida last time we were there. MMMMMMMM!

  7. Wait, you're buying sage and I have sage from your garden? Ah? I remember that poultry season can. My mom always used that too.
    I eat some stuffing before I stuff the bird too.

  8. @ Pam. . .my how time flies! That was last year! We had an unexpected, early frost while we were in Rochester this year, and most of my sage wound up with blackened leaves, hence me ordering it.

    You should crumble some of the leaves to see if it is still abundantly fragrant. .if not, toss it. .I would say that I'll send you some more, but that will have to wait until next Fall! Add that to your growing list and buy some when you are in Florida. lol

  9. I had them sealed in a zippy. Yes, they had plenty of fragrance too. THyme does fly - lol!
    I'm looking forward to Fla. Got a to-do list and I'll bet I just zone out watching the surf instead!

  10. hi suzie....i do use custard cups for the small pies but i use those small pyrex bowls too. anything small enough that works for an individual pie gets used! i buy them at thrift stores when i see them and i usually pay about 39 cents for them.

  11. hi...the chest is from korea. i used to spend a lot of time there and i bought several pieces and shipped them home. i like to mix asian pieces in with country and formal. my style is a mix of all sorts of thing. i love mixing very very forml things with very casual. maybe i will do a post on that!

  12. my age...I do not cook like you do fact..(snicker)...I never really did..but I WILL have to try that APPLE cake recipe when we have a family get together again.
    I have joined your DELICIOUS blog..and hope you come over and see where I posted your blog link on mine.
    I found you blog by chance...glad I did.

  13. I apologize...I have your blog and jaz@octoberfarm's blog mixed up, regarding the apple cake recipe.
    It's my age (73) and FIBRO FOG !!
    None the less.. I am glad I joined YOUR well.
    I have sent your blog addy over to a Texas friend of mine who LOVES TO COOK AND Garden as well.


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