This week in the vintage kitchen we are celebrating the wonders of the summer herb garden with a vintage recipe that has absolutely antique roots.
If you are a regular reader of the blog, you’ll recognize the name and face of the recipe writer…
…celebrated New York Times food critic and cook Craig Claiborne. Back in February Ms. Jeannie shared his recipe for Eggplant Pizza from his 1963 Herb and Spice Cook Book – a complete gem of a compendium organized by herb and spice for quick reference. In that post, oregano was the featured herb and Ms. Jeannie gave all the credit to Craig for his imaginative and most delicious creation.
But while Craig was the chef in the kitchen, the writer of the words and the name attached to the dust jacket, there was another face behind the flavor of the book – a muse of intellectual imagination that inspired Craig and enhanced his cook book.
Her name was Hilda Leyel and she was the woman behind the crusade to bring back the herb.
For centuries herb gardening has been considered a feminine endeavor and a maternal skill – a salve for the sick, a staple for the diet and a component in clean living. But with the introduction of doctors and hospitals and modern medicine, and the dawn of the industrial revolution, herbs and herb gardening fell out of fashion by the early part of the 20th century. Then Hilda came along.
A life long lover of gardens, a student of medicine, and an appreciator of fine food, good wine and natural living Hilda published several books on the importance of herbs, opened Culpepers, the first herbal-only shop in England (which offered herbal remedies, food, makeup and holistic products) and founded the still-going strong Herb Society all within a decade between the 1920’s and 1930’s. The efforts of this one woman single-handedly revitalized the popularity of herbs in gardening, cooking and personal product choices for not only the citizens of England but also of the world at large.
It was Hilda’s passion, promotion and sheer love that inspired Craig with his Herb and Spice cookbook. Her detailed research and botanical understanding of each of the 54 herbs and spices featured in his cookbook tell of the history, symbolism and importance of each plant. Which makes the two of them a great team. She tells why herbs are important and he shows how they taste great.
It is wonderful to see that Hilda’s efforts had numerous and lasting effects decades after her death in 1957. To honor Hilda’s magnificent determination, it is only fitting to feature a recipe from the sage section of the Herb and Spice Cook Book which comes from the botanical name salvio, meaning to “save” since Hilda in her own way saved the herbs from obscurity. Cheers to Hilda!
This week we are making Sage Smothered Chicken with Polenta, which is on the heavier side of summer cooking but features so many garden ingredients that its hard to resist. If you want to make a lighter (aka cooler) dinner during this hot season, just omit the polenta and serve the chicken alongside a fresh garden salad. It’s delicious either way!
Sage Chicken with Polenta
1 4lb. chicken cut into serving pieces
Salt and freshly ground Pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (canned if your garden tomatoes aren’t ready yet!)
1 six-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
A small bunch of fresh sage leaves (for garnish)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow or white corn meal
Sprinkle the chicken pieces with one teaspoon salt and one quarter teaspoon black pepper. Heat the oil and brown the chicken, onion and garlic lightly. Add the tomatoes, paste, sage and pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon pepper or more to taste).
Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 50 minutes or so. While chicken is cooking prepare the polenta by bringing two and a half cups water to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl mix the cornmeal with one and a half cups water until combined. Add cornmeal mixture to the boiling water and stir until pot comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.
Place the polenta on a large platter. Arrange the chicken on top and spoon the sauce over it. Garnish the platter with fresh sage leaves for presentation. Serve hot.
You will most likely have extra sauce left over with this recipe, which you can freeze for later use as a homemade tomato sauce for pasta or pizza. Delicious and helpful! A big cheers to Hilda for inspiring Craig who then inspired Ms. Jeannie.
Find the Herb and Spice cookbook for sale in Ms. Jeannie’s book shop here.
Happy cooking dear readers!