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Clary Sage, The Colonial Taste Of Spring

A finished clary sage fritter

After long, harsh winters, early American colonists were voracious for fresh greens. Europeans brought many herbs and vegetables with them across the water, including clary sage, a garden staple that provided a welcome burst of early spring flavor. The biennial herb originated in the north Mediterranean, and was also known as "clear-eye," because its slimy seeds were used for removing dust from the eyes.

Colonists in New York grew winter wheat, which was harvested in early summer and later ground into flour and shipped down the Hudson river, when waterways were clear of ice. At Philipsburg Manor, 23 African slaves carried out all of the cooking, dairy, grain threshing and milling operations that produced up to 15 tons of flour per week.

The menu and cooking methods were all adapted to match ever-changing weather and seasonal conditions of farm work.

"It all revolves around the demands of the growing season," said Kathy Browing, a volunteer and colonial cooking expert who demonstrated how to make the fritters on a griddle over an open fire. "If your wheat crop is ready to harvest, everybody's in the barn from dawn to dark, you're only going to stop for a few minutes and then go right back to work."

The Philipsberg Manor volunteers can't serve the demo food made on site, but a home kitchen (and foraging) experiment confirmed that clary sage fritters are simple, tasty herbal treats - best eaten griddle-hot.

Browning used recipes found in a 1744 cookbook, Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery; or, the Kitchen Garden Display'd.

More:Â Philipsburg Manor, Upper Mills: Telling The Story (Historic Hudson Valley)

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