(Anethum graveolens, Linn.), a hardy annual, native of the
Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions, smaller than common fennel,
which it somewhat resembles both in appearance and in the flavor of the
green parts, which are, however, less agreeable.
In ancient times it was grown in Palestine. The word translated, "anise"
in Matthew xxiii, 23, is said to have been "dill" in the original Greek.
It was well k
own in Pliny's time, and is often discussed by writers in
the middle ages. According to American writings, it has been grown in
this country for more than 100 years and has become spontaneous in many
Description.--Ordinarily the plants grow 2 to 2-1/2 feet tall. The
glaucous, smooth, hollow, branching stems bear very threadlike leaves
and in midsummer compound umbels with numerous yellow flowers, whose
small petals are rolled inward. Very flat, pungent, bitter seeds are
freely produced, and unless gathered early are sure to stock the garden
with volunteer seedlings for the following year. Under fair storage
conditions, the seeds continue viable for three years. They are rather
light; a quart of them weighs about 11 ounces, and an ounce is said to
contain over 25,000 seeds.
Cultivation.--Where dill has not already been grown seed may be sown
in early spring, preferably in a warm sandy soil, where the plants are
to remain. Any well-drained soil will do. The drills should be 1 foot
apart, the seeds scattered thinly and covered very shallow; a bed 12
feet square should supply abundance of seed for any ordinary family. To
sow this area 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of seed is ample. For field use the rows
may be 15 inches apart and the seed sown more thinly. It should not be
covered much more than 1/4 inch. Some growers favor fall sowing, because
they claim the seed is more likely to germinate than in the spring, and
also to produce better plants than spring-sown seed.
At all times the plants must be kept free from weeds and the soil loose
and open. When three or four weeks old the seedlings are thinned to 9
inches, or even a foot apart. As soon as the seed is ripe, shortly after
midsummer, it must be gathered with the least possible shaking and
handling, so as to prevent loss. It is well to place the stems as cut
directly in a tight-bottomed cart or a wheelbarrow, with a canvas
receptacle for the purpose, and to haul direct to the shade where drying
is to occur. A good place for this is a barn, upon the floor of which a
large canvas sheet is spread, and where a free circulation of air can be
secured. (See page 28.)
Uses.--The French use dill for flavoring preserves, cakes and pastry.
For these purposes it is of too strong and pronounced a character to be
relished by American palates. The seeds perhaps more often appear in
soups, sauces and stews, but even here they are relished more by our
European residents than by native Americans. Probably they are most used
in pickles, especially in preserving cucumbers according to German
recipes. Thousands of barrels of such pickles are sold annually, more
especially in the larger cities and to the poorer people; but as this
pickle is procurable at all delicatessen stores, it has gained great
popularity among even the well-to-do. An oil is distilled from the seeds
and used in perfuming soap. The young leaves are said to be used in
pickles, soups and sauces, and even in salads. For the last purpose they
are rather strong to suit most people, and for the others the seeds are
far more popular.
Dill vinegar is a popular household condiment. It is made by soaking the
seed in good vinegar for a few days before using. The quantity of
ingredients to use is immaterial. Only a certain amount of the flavor
can be dissolved by the vinegar, and as few samples of vinegar are
alike, the quantities both to mix and of the decoction to use must be
left to the housewife. This may be said, however, that after one lot of
seed has been treated the vinegar may be poured off and the seeds
steeped a second time to get a weaker infusion. The two infusions may
then be mixed and kept in a dark cupboard for use as needed.