"Gather round my wagon, ladies and gentlemen, and listen to what Dr. Abernathy's FAYmous Dill DeCOCtion and Tonic can do for YOU."
"Don't be fooled by imitations, folks. This is the one and only original and genuine Dr. Abernathy's Famous Dill Decoction, good for wind, witches, weak nails, ulcers, hiccups, snoring and sweetening bad breath. Step right up and get your very own dill at a bargain, bargain price here especially for you."
Well, when you read the list that dill was used to cure throughout the ages it really DOES sound like a tonic peddled by one of those turn-of-the-century snake-oil salesmen.
The English name comes from the Saxon "dilla" or "dillan" which meant "to lull." Whether that referred to its use as a sedative for colicky babies or a flatulence reducer it's hard to say.
Once brought to America, dill became known as "meeting seeds" because they were given to adults and children to chew during the sometimes day-long sermons and church services. The dill supposedly kept away hunger pangs and boredom, but with its reputation as a sedative, maybe you'd better pass on it for those interminable business meetings.
Our most familiar use of dill is, of course, with pickled cucumbers. In fact, it's so much a part of our idea of what a pickled cucumber should taste like we omit the main ingredient from the name and just call them "dill pickles."
If you do much pickling, consider growing your own dill--it's ridiculously easy. Sow it now and the seeds will be ready for use by the end of summer. If you can't wait that long to make your pickles, try tucking a whole flowerhead or several sprigs of leaves into each jar. The flavor is not quite as strong as the seeds, but it has a fresher character and certainly looks more dramatic.
The feathery, thread-like leaves and cheerful yellow flowers are a great addition to any garden be it floral, herbal or culinary. The leaves have a slightly grassy tang with hints of lemon, pine and fennel; the flavor of the seeds is stronger and heavier on the fennel side.
If you're growing dill for the seeds, be sure to let some plants flower. The seeds are ripe when the flower heads turn medium to dark brown and the seeds fall easily from the plant.
Besides cucumbers, another traditional use for dill is with fish--particularly salmon. It's a luscious combination, enjoyed for generations by Scandinavians in gravlax, but you can try it baked on or in salmon fillets or layered with smoked salmon and cheese for an appetizer.
It's great with other fish too, either baked or used in a sauce like this one.
Dilly Fish Sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh minced dill
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.
Combine all ingredients and chill for at least two hours to let the flavors combine. Dollop or spoon baked or grilled fish to add a little zippety do-dah.
Growing and Using Dill
Dill is a lovely herb that adds a refreshing flavor to any recipe. Try adding a little dill to a ho-hum recipe, and watch what happens. It's almost magic! This booklet starts with tips on growing, harvesting and preserving dill, and then turns to cooking with dill. These are without a doubt the best dill recipes you'll ever taste!
You can find fresh dill in the produce section of most grocery stores. It will keep in your refrigerator for about three to four days stored in a zippered plastic bag with a damp paper towel.
For long-term storage, freeze the leaves and dry the seeds. (Dried leaves lose much of their flavor.) To use the frozen leaves, just snip off what you need and toss the rest back in the freezer. In fact, snipping dill is the best way to mince it--it bruises the delicate leaves less than chopping.
You can use either the leaves or the seeds to make flavored vinegars that are perfect for salads. Add four sprigs or a teaspoon of seeds to a cup of boiling vinegar and steep for several hours. Strain it and pour the vinegar into a sterilized jar or bottle and add fresh leaves or flowerheads for visual interest.
Dill is also savory with potatoes--try adding some seeds to the simmering water of boiled new potatoes or toss the seeds and leaves into potato salads.
Toss the leaves with your favorite summer salad for a refreshing bite or stir them into cottage cheese to add a little zip.
A pinch of seeds is an unusual addition to bean soups--they add a subtle flavor as well as um. . .well, those anti-flatulent properties. As Bankes' Herbal of 1525 so elegantly put it, "dill assuageth wicked winds in the womb (stomach)."
Hey, whatever it takes.