Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dill: An Herb with Personality Plus

In the herb world, dill is underrated and misunderstood. It has a reputation for being strong-willed, introverted, and clannish. People automatically assume that its one true love is a cucumber, but this is unfair--and wrong. Dill has many soul mates. In fact, she's a player.

You know her kind.
She's the leggy, feminine aunt who always has a poetry book in her hand. She's smart, funny, loyal, creative, and single--by choice.  Men adore her. When Dill walks into a party, the handsomest guy rushes up, oozing sweet talk. You can't buy her love, but you can buy her a Cosmopolitan. Across the room, she sees a short, bald art critic--lord, what a doll. And smart!
She pats the handsome man on the head and says, "Toodle-do."
Then she's gone, baby, gone.

 On Saturday mornings, you will find her at rummage sales, looking for vintage clothing. In her heart, Dill is an old fashioned girl. At family dinners, she'll show up in a watery green silk dress, a feathered boa draped around her shoulders. Behind her back, the cousins whisper, calling her eccentric, impulsive, flighty, and cliquish. 
Our Lady of the Dill flips her boa, trying to ignore the gossip. But the cousins just won't hush.

Tempting as it is, Dill is not the type to start a cat fight, especially at a family function--just don't push her too far. This dame has an attitude. She'll march right up to the cousins and toss out a witty retort, leaving them ashamed and speechless.
Then she walks away, Dame Helen Mirren on the exit, leaving behind her signature scent: a bit wild and tangy, subtle but memorable.

Dill has been described as having a strong, sour flavor, but that's another unfair description. 

Bite into a sprig.
The first hit is grassy, followed by a pungent dazzle. The sour notes shift into a sweet glimmer, but in a flash, the sweetness turns savory. 

It happens so fast, you might miss the layers as they fly by.

Take another bite.
The flavors bloom, rise to a peak, then instantly fade, settling down into a collected balance. 

What else do we know about this charming herb? The etymology of dill can be traced to the Norse word dylle, "to lull" or relax.  Indeed, ancient Greek physicians prescribed it as a digestive aid. 
American colonists drank dill water infusions to settle the stomach. More recently, WebMD says the herb possesses a chemical that may cause muscle relaxation.

Here we are, thousands of years later, and the meaning of dylle was correct.

Roman soldiers burned the seeds and used them as a poultice for wounds (the heat probably sterilized the area). But not all uses were medicinal. In the Gospel of Matthew, dill was used to pay taxes:
"Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites for ye pay tithe of mint and dill and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law."
--Matthew 23: 23

During Medieval times, the herb was used as a protective charm. Supposedly it repelled witches. A homemade anti-hex kit consisted of a simple dill sachet, which was tucked into one's bodice. If you were transported back to this period, you'd see dill wreaths on front doors--the long, lacy strands were so fragrant, they would surely confuse a practitioner of dark magic. 

This belief persisted into the 1700s.

"Therewith her Vervain and her Dill/
that hindereth witches of the hill."
--Michael Drayton, Nymphidia (1627)

In Europe, sprigs were tucked into bridal bouquets to ensure a happy marriage. Dill is reputed to be an aphrodisiac, and housewives would steep the herb in wine, hoping to bring a lover to his knees. 

When it comes to culinary matters, Dill is an unsung hero--and an unsung herb. Without it, Scandinavian, German, and Russian cuisines wouldn't be the same. Can you imagine Gravlax  or Borscht  without dill?

I won't even start about pickles.

 Refrigerator Dill Pickles

4 cucumbers, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 cup spring water
2 cups distilled vinegar
2 cups white champagne vinegar
1 cup chopped fresh dill
8 tablespoons white granulated sugar
3 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
container for pickles (I used canning jars)

Into a large saucepan, add water, vinegars, sugar, salt, fresh dill, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and dill seeds. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. When sugar and salt dissolve, remove pan from heat and cool. Add dried dill after the mixture has cooled, as dried dill will lose flavor when it's heated. Adjust flavors, especially sugar and salt, to your preference. 

Set the pickle jars, lids, rings on a rack in the sink. Pour boiling water over the items. Alternately, you can boil the items in a Dutch oven. (Since this isn't hard core canning, you may prefer to run the jars and lids through the dishwasher. Me, I prefer to sterilize my equipment. Just saying.)

Meanwhile, slice the cucumbers and place in the clean, cooled jars. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into the jars. Add sprigs of fresh dill, if you like. Add lids to top of jars, screw on rings. Place jars in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Turn jars at least once to distribute seeds.The flavors peak after 24-hours. Discard after 2 weeks. 
Quantity: Four 1-pint jars

Notes: I added an extra teaspoon of salt and doubled the amount of sugar. After 12 hours, I tested the pickles and added 1/2 teaspoon to each jar. In addition to fresh dill, I also added dried dill.

Potato salad has a certain zing when dill is added--and it's even tastier if you add chopped, homemade dill pickles.

Heirloom Potato Salad with Dill and Pancetta

2 pounds assorted fingerling Heirloom potatoes (such as "All Blue," "Elba," "Amarosa," etc.)
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup homemade dill pickles, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (adjust to your preference)
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (adjust amount to your liking)
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 pound pancetta
1 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped
Fresh dill sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub potatoes, then cut in half (or fourths if you prefer little, bite-sized bits). Boil in salted water until tender. Drain, place in a large mixing bowl, and set aside. Fry pancetta, remove from pan, and reserve drippings for another recipe. Add red onion, shallots, dill pickles, and celery to potatoes. Stir. Add mayonnaise, honey, and vinegar. Stir. Add pancetta. Stir. Before you add the salt, taste the salad. Season with Kosher salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Fold in chopped dill and parsley. Chill. Place leftovers in a covered bowl and refrigerate.

Dill has been used in sauces, vinegar, soap making, love charms, witch chasers, mouthwashes, and cough suppressants. It's even been used as a cure for hiccups. This sweet, little auntie gets around. 
She's got places to see, boyfriends to pat on the head, and recipes to cook.

And when she leaves the room, her boa floating behind her, a feathery sprig floats to the floor. 
You pick it up, press it to your nose, breathe deeply.
You're missing her already.

Read More About Dill:
"Pickles Throughout History" -- History Channel

Shared at the following linky parties:


  1. Fabulous recipe and I love the pics ! Thanks for sharing pretty lady. I'm pinning.

    Have a great week,

  2. What a fun post! I am a fan of dill, but never quite thought of it/her in such dramatic fashion. What I like about it is how low maintenance it is. You plant it once, shake the seed heads and it willingly self-seeds again and again. I have it coming up in a variety of pots and was looking for a recipe to try, other than the usual dill sauce-topped salmon. Your pickles look beautiful and the recipe is tempting, but I am the queen of limp pickles, so I try to avoid making them.

  3. Fun post.
    Makes me want to try making some.
    Blessings and pleasant days,

  4. I loved this post - the story about Miss Dill is wonderful. I also like dill and I need to get a plant for my herb garden. I used to have some but don't know what happened to it. Probably the gardener pulled it up thinking it was a weed. I have to watch them.
    Thanks so much for the recipe - the potato salad sounds wonderful and wish I had some right now.
    Have a great week.

  5. So much fun, using index finger to type so this is short... LOVE IT! So nice to let the author loose with a camera in the kitchen!

  6. Michael Lee, I loved reading your post on Lady Dill, and l learned so much information and history on this lovely herb. You should write a book on herbs, and with your pretty photos and fabulous recipes, it would be a winner. I made fingerling potato salad over the weekend, but mine was so boring compared to yours. Now I'm ready to make some refrigerator dill pickles!

  7. Love your description of Ms. Dill ! :)
    The potato salad and pickles look so good. Love a good pickle, but don't indulge often due to the sodium.

  8. I am definitely making the jar pretty! Thanks.


  9. Mmmmm sodium, I happen to love it! Pickles, olives, kraut, it's all good! But dill is the bomb diggity!

  10. As always , your beautiful photos are a pleasure to look at! I just received some fresh dill from my CSA today . Thanks for all the ideas

  11. Wonderful recipes and wonderful story! I love how it is written. I have a good pickle recipe but have been looking for a different one. I think I will give this one a try as soon as I can find some decent cucumbers here in Nashville. Great photos also! Isn't it amazing how herbs were used throughout history?! We take them for granted because they are so readily available, however, at one time they were so very precious!

  12. I love this story! I had no idea there was so much history with dill :-) I'm going to go give my little dill plant some extra love today.
    Can't wait to try your pickles... the cucumbers are growing fast this year!

  13. Deliciously beautiful post, Michael!

  14. Love the story and lots of interesting info. Love your photos, I need to learn how to photograph in such an interesting way.

  15. I love dill - one of my favorite herbs! Just used it in a pasta salad and tuna salad. Will be pinning the recipe for the refrigerator pickles. I could probably eat an entire jar in one sitting!

  16. I shall think of dill with a whole new outlook! :-)

  17. Hi Michael Lee! Oh, your dill is beautiful and your food looks so good. I had an aunt who made the best pickles that looked like yours! Your snaps are so beautiful too. Thank you for popping in to see me and the compliment on my drapes - they're semi homemade. I bought the panels and lined them and then chopped up the ones by my piano and made those into poofies! :) Hope you're doing well.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  18. I'm loving your herb posts, Michael. I think this one is my favorite :)

    Have a great weekend, my friend!


  19. I love your images and learned lots about dill - can't wait to try the recipe!!

  20. Now I want to hang out with Dill for a while! I chuckled and snorted my way through your wonderfully witty post. ♥

  21. I love dill. I just made some pickles yesterday..the refrigerator kind-I will probably never can again...been there done that. I also put dill in my potato salad.

  22. Beautiful post, Michael! I love dill and your recipe for potato salad looks amazing! Pinned! Can't wait to try it!
    Have a terrific weekend!

  23. Dill is a favorite. Loved your potato salad recipe, it was delicious. Please continue with your herb series, it's wonderful.

  24. Dill is a favorite. Loved your potato salad recipe, it was delicious. Please continue with your herb series, it's wonderful.