Dill has a faint hint of caraway flavor and can act as a stand-in for anyone with an aversion to the latter.
Enchanting in appearance and flavor, this feather-leaved annual should be grown by everyone who puts their hearts into cooking. It is slender with feathery, almost threadlike bluish green leaves, and small deep yellow flowers in flat saucer heads up to 8 inches across. It grows elegantly from 11/2 to 3 feet and looks remarkably like a refined version of fennel.
Dill has a faint hint of caraway flavor and can act as a stand-in for anyone with an aversion to the latter. It mysteriously combines a cool, refreshing sharpness with slight sweetness. Fennel, if in doubt between the two, has an unmistakable aniseed scent when the leaves are rubbed.
Dill water, an infusion of the dried seeds, has for generations been given to babies to burp them and dill’s soothing effect on the digestion has made it an indispensable ingredient of pickled cucumbers, and such varying foods as chutneys, sauces for vegetables and fish, soups, seafood, sauerkraut, cheese and egg dishes, chicken and meat as well as salads, and in apple pie.
Both leaves and seeds are splendid playthings for serious cooks. The leaves lose their flavor in cooking. The seeds are particularly good in vegetables needing very little water when being cooked, such as shredded cabbage, or crushed onto cauliflower whole if it is being steamed.
Sow the seed in spring where it is to remain and thin the seedlings to 12 inches. A sunny, sheltered well-drained border suits them best, where they will be irritated neither by drafts or strong winds. Keep the infant seedlings free of vigorous weeds against which they are too fragile to compete. This does not imply that they are in any way difficult to grow, simply that they may get throttled before you realize they have surfaced.
Warning. Don’t sow dill near fennel. The mature plants are so alike that you may get the seeds mixed up when harvesting. Also there is the danger of cross-pollination, so that the following year, the seed may produce neither true dill or true fennel.
For a continuous supply of young leaves, the seed can be sown from late spring to early summer, or if the flower heads are not wanted for seed, pinch them out as soon as the buds appear. This treatment, combined with cutting the leaves frequently for use makes the plants more bushy, rather than like feathery umbrella handles, and keeps their energy producing more leaves.
Dill does not grow well in pots after the seedling stage, nor will it develop seed heads.
Leaves to be dried for winter should be cut when still young, spread in a thin layer and put in a dark, warm airy place till they are brittle. Crumble the leaves from the stems and store in dark airtight jars. They keep a good color.
To collect the seeds, pull up the plants or cut them down as the main flower heads turn brown, but before they become ripe enough to ’spill’ out onto the ground. Tie in bunches and hang upside down in a sunny place over a cloth to catch the seeds. When quite dry shake out the seeds and store in airtight containers.
Dill leaves can be preserved in salt. Pick them in the prime of life, discard any tough stalks and chop them roughly. Store in screw-topped jars with a good sprinkle of salt between the layers.
If you are interested in learning more about using herbs for cooking, you might be interested in reading Cooking With Fresh Herbs.
Published in: Gardening