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The Essay
Show #512
The Sage of Chelmsford
David Gunn

In ancient England, in the Kingdom of Fford, there lived a sorceress named Anomar. She used her powers, which were indeed puissant, for good. That is, she used them permanently, forever, not necessarily in a virtuous manner. For that, the neighborhood religious zealots denounced her--but not often, for Anomar reacted swiftly, frequently turning them into deer, then shipping them off to a range where they and a few dozen antelope played out of earshot of most discouraging words. Anomar's flair for the black arts was strong, yes, but she also took pleasure in exploring the vagaries of the culinary arts. Typically, the kingdom's cuisine was insufferably bland. Warmed over badger on a stick, badger purée embellished with leaves, badger brown betty and badger pad thai confirmed that, in Fford at least, gastronomy took a back seat to astronomy and all the other extant onomies. So Anomar began to take roots and herbs from the potion side of her business and apply them to the kingdom's comestibles. Anise, basil, caraway, dill, epazote, fennel, ginger, horseradish, lovage, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, turmeric, vanilla, wasabi and Alpert--Anomar used these herbs liberally, and the culinary results were nothing short of revolutionary. Word of her prowess spread like oleomargarine on hardtack. At first, the king was loath to consort with a revolutionary, but then he sampled her cucaracha hot dish. Impressed, he appointed her Kitchen Magician of Fford.

Anomar proceeded to liven up mealtimes with a seemingly endless assortment of herbed foodstuffs. Her inventive cookery wowed one and all, but the palace's palates were never so pleased as when she employed the intoxicatingly aromatic Salvia officinalis, or sage. Nouvelle Cuisine dishes such as Rites of Pas Sage, Cardiacmas Sage and Viennasau Sage were prized by the kingdom's finickiest trenchermen. Then one day she tried to spice up a vegan-leaning menu with a little venison by turning her sous chef into a deer, but the toque didn't transubstantiate and remained bitter and tough.

The hat wasn't the only thing that was bitter. To a man, Fford's Guild of Line Cooks resented the lard-free shortening of their colleague's life, and they began to plot revenge. When Anomar ordered them do the prep work for a smoked salmon 'n sage hors d'oeuvre, they knew they had their chance. By doctoring the fish with bacteria they'd gleaned from the Royal Abattoir, they turned the appetizer into a smoked salmonellosis. And though Anomar's mystical powers were strong--stronger even than her Floralcor Sage--they couldn't save her from an adverse reaction to the infection, especially when it was accompanied by a rather permanent beheading.

Time, being an oh-so predictable nonspatial continuum, passed. The kingdom fell into ruin, though the sage that the sorceress had sowed all around the palace continued to grow like gangbusters. It grew so profusely, in fact, that it looked from a distance like a gray-green hillock. About this time, England was overrun by Polish warlords. One, named Sid, founded a city on the ruins of the Kingdom of Fford. He named the city "Chelm," the Polish word for mountain. Well, Sid had never actually seen a mountain, and the centuries-old mound of sage looked extremely mountainous to him.

Time continued to pass. The Poles migrated to the northernmost and southernmost ends of the Earth, where their magnetic personalities were at last appreciated. An inhabitantless Chelm again fell into disrepair, though a primitive sketch on one of the area henges suggests that it was briefly settled by a Bronze Age tribe with big hair. Eventually, a third city was built upon the ruins of the previous two. After researching the history of the region, the hunter-gatherer planners christened the new municipality Chelmsford.

It was a quiet burg until 1920, when two major events occurred there: Guglielmo Marconi began the world's first wireless broadcasting service, and a woman named Ramona opened Ramona's Rapid Eatery, the world's first quick service restaurant. (Note to culinary history buffs: Forget what you've heard about the White Castle hamburger chain opening in Wichita, Kansas in 1916. The patties served up in that restaurant were just holographic representations of ground meat. They didn't really exist in the natural world, a trait that continues to dog the restaurant chain to this day.) Marconi's radiophonic feat, and his simultaneous transmogrification into a large box of hollow-tubed pasta, are well documented. Not so are the events that led Ramona to turn her Eatery into Vegans For Venison, an early twentieth century food society that attempted to cross-pollinate carnivores and vegetarians. Speculaticians think the black arts were involved.

The successful pollinatees, called carnitarians, were hale, hardy and handsome. Many became captains of industry and sergeants at armadas. Unsuccessful pollinatees, or veggievores, looked and acted not unlike certain hoofed ruminant animals with deciduous antlers that previously roamed the countryside. Their concern for personal hygiene waned, hence they were shunned by society.

One day, Ramona failed to convene a VFV meeting, so a veggivore went to her flat to look for her. The apartment was utterly empty, except for an ancient, tattered cookbook that lay open to a recipe for Northwestpas Sage.

For years thereafter, the speculaticians argued over her fate. Meanwhile, the sage of Chelmsford continued to flourish. Some days, it grew so abundantly that it obscured much of the city. But mostly it was simply an ever-present, aromatic municipal accessory. A few people found it interesting enough to pay tribute to it in song or verse. Coincidentally, one of them is in our studio today, and he'll use the 512th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar to try to explain why he likes this particular herb and not, say, Alpert, or better yet, Garam maKalvos.