This is the third post in an ongoing series featuring “grow-your-own” produce and how to make the most of it this summer. Our hope is to demystify the process … help your “green (or maybe not-so-green) thumb” emerge … have some fun, particularly with the kids hanging around your house or neighborhood this summer … and help everyone understand how their food comes to be!
We hear you…“Gardening tips from a soup company?” Hey, we’re foodies – for us, food is endlessly fascinating and we think the more you know, the better you will eat; the better you eat, the better you’ll feel. Pretty simple notion and one that is fundamental to New England Country Soup … so let’s go play in the dirt and have some fun!
Poor dill. The feathery herb simply cannot shake its longtime association with the cult favorite, cucumber pickles. Sometimes it lands a job as a flavoring, spice rub, snow cone flavor, and popcorn seasoning, but it never fails…people associate dill with pickles. Well, dill has had enough, and while it does not wish to encumber its cucumber relationship, it also wants to shine and stand as a flavoring all on its own! So, as the Beatles might say “give dill a chance”, outside the pickle jar, and plant some in your garden this summer! We have given dill a chance in our New England Clam Chowder and our consumers cannot get enough of it.
Bio: Dill, Anethum graveolens
Origins: This herb can be found under the label dill or dill weed, but you can also purchase just the seeds of the dill plant. The word dill comes from Old English and an Anglo-Saxon spelling of the word means “to soothe or lull.” Dill can be either a perennial or an annual plant depending on where it grows. It can grow up to several feet tall or in delicate little frills with leaves similar to the fennel plant, but with small yellow and white flowers. Dill originally came from areas of the Mediterranean and southern parts of Russia. This simple weed is an ancient herb buried in Egyptian tombs as well as Neolithic settlements (i.e the Stone Age, which occurred about 12,000 years ago) and Roman ruins. And, a part of the Talmud (a text used in Judaism) suggests paying religious tithes in dill fronds. We like to think this herb’s flavor is sure worth its weight in gold.
Whether you are working in raised beds, porch or window pots, or even a small plot of earth, dill works on all levels and works well with other sprawling herbs like lavender, basil, and mint.
How to Buy: Start your dill plant from seeds, either from the farmers market or in paper envelopes from your local nursery. If you are using a container or box garden, remember that dill weed has deep roots and will need plenty of basement room for expansion. Invest in a large or deep terra cotta pot that will drain well and support a tall plant.
Plant Prep: Once you’ve selected your dill seeds, consider your planting arrangement. Just as you would preheat your oven when baking or prepping your ingredients before cooking, assessing your planting space and readying the soil is a key to gardening success. For dill, the plant prefers mostly moist soil in full sun. The plant will grow quite tall, so be sure that it doesn’t block sunlight for your other plants.
1. Till or lightly toss any old soil and break up any large clumps. Add water if soil is dry, the little dill seeds need a bit of moisture to germinate! If you are adding new soil to a box or pot, make sure you are using organic made-for-edibles soil types (lawn soils and flower mixtures are created with those plants in mind and include pesticides and other chemicals you wouldn’t want in a home cooked meal).
2. Since dill seeds are so small, you can sprinkle a little clump or area (or rows if in a large garden bed) of seeds. Cover lightly with moistened soil.
3. Seeds will start to sprout in just a few weeks. Once the little sprouts are a few inches tall, thin the plants to encourage proper growth. If using a container, thin to a few strong looking little sprouts. If using a bed, thin the plants to about a foot apart. Dill plants in the ground will most likely grow much taller than those in a pot.
– Water only every so often. The soil does not need to be consistently moist like spinach. Use the dill fronds (“fronds” is just another word for the delicate divided leaves of the plant) as an indication: if they look dehydrated, limp, not a bright vibrant green, then you probably need to water. Since this plant has deep roots, when you do water it needs to be a good long soak with drip or soaker hoses so the water can trickle down through the soil.
-Dill weed can be harvested at any time during the growing process so long as you are not uprooting an entire immature plant. The fronds of the weed will stop growing once flowers appear, so pick and use once this happens! Seeds can also now be harvested.
– Alternatively, you can harvest dill weed throughout the season and once your plant flowers let nature take its course and allow the seeds to fall into the pot or ground below and they can grow again next year!
In the Kitchen:
Dill, like any flower or herb cutting, stores best in a small jar or vase of water. You can also tuck the cuttings into a large zip-top bag with a layer of clean paper towel to absorb excess moisture. To dry dill for long term storage, simply cut several plants, gather into a bunch and tie stems together with kitchen twine. Place upside down into a paper bag with the stems at the top of the bag and crumple the edges around the stems to close. Hang the whole thing in a cool, dry place (we recommend using a clothespin to secure it to a line or a wire hanger) until the dill leaves easily crumble. The paper bag will catch any falling leaves throughout the drying process. Store in an airtight glass jar or in a zip-top bag.
So many Pickle varieties!
Half Sour (that’s a New York Deli style)
Dill Potato Salad (what, no mayo!?)
Dill Oyster Crackers (Go great with our New England Clam Chowder!)
Dill Pesto (let’s see how many different pestos we can make this summer!)
Dill Yogurt or Tzatziki (pronounced dza-dziki)
We know that last one sounds funny, but we promise you, once you put dried dill on your popcorn, your movie nights will never be the same! The great thing about this summer garden pick is that you can save it and use it all year long! And, it totally beats any bottled stuff from the supermarket! One last tip before we dash out to check on our own garden: nothing smells more like summer or looks better in a garden grown bouquet than a few big sprigs of dill mixed in with garden roses and other fresh herbs! Stay tuned for the next “In the Soup Garden”!30