mom memories

The Wonders of Dill – Memories of Mom

I was having lunch with my son the day I flew in to visit him and his family. We both were having a salad and he was raving about the dressing. It was a creamy ranch with dill. After having a taste I agreed it was yummy. His comment was that dill is not used much but is a very enjoyable herb. This got me thinking about dill and the many ways to use it in cooking. I think it is one of those herbs that you either like or dislike, and there is no middle ground.

That’s the key, you have to like it to use it in meal preparation and since it’s not used much in western kitchens not many people have had the opportunity to cultivate a taste for it. Yet it’s a Polish staple at least it was when I was growing up. This got me thinking about my Polish household and how dill was used in many dishes my mom prepared. In fact it was during medieval times that dill made its way to Central and Eastern Europe. It’s called dill weed for good reason, because if not harvested, it self-sows and becomes an invasive species, a weed.

Dill is such an aromatic herb which for centuries was used for medicinal purposes. It had been used to sooth the upset stomach, used as an appetite suppressant, and even to kill bad breathe. It’s even been given credit for stimulating milk production in breastfeeding mothers, and helping with colic. I can’t vouch for any of these remedies; I just enjoy the taste and aroma.

Dill was a staple in my mother’s cooking, and she grew it in her back yard garden, the South 40 as we called it. The fragrance takes me back to mom’s Polish cooking. I presently live in a household which is a no dill zone, so I don’t go out of my way to keep it in the house, nor do I grow it in my garden. My husband is one of those who was never exposed to the wonders of dill. The fragrance alone takes me back to the dishes mom prepared. She used it in dressings made of sour cream and vinegar for cucumbers and salads, as well as in the filling for stuffed cabbages / pigs in the blanket, and she added it to her vegetable soups. Of course it is used extensively in canning pickles and on salmon for a great taste. My mom cooked the way she remembers her mother cooking and the way my dad liked his foods. He would say to mom, prepare the foods like my mother did.

My favorite memory of one of mom’s dishes was her gołąbki, her stuffed cabbage rolls. The filling was produced as an art form, which no other chef has replicated to my knowledge. Her recipe was probably from her region of Poland, or a combination of areas and ethnic influences. Those regions of Eastern Europe traded hands multiple times in history which influenced how women cooked as well as their traditions, especially from the Ukrainian, Jewish, Austrian, Russian and Polish communities. This meant that the ethnic influences from each country or ethnicity left their culinary mark. Gołąbi was definitely put together the way my dad’s mother made it and quite probably the way my mom’s household made it. The key to the filling is the dill that is used along with bacon bits, bacon drippings and small pork pieces. This concoction mixed with white rice is what made my mother’s gołąbki so special. I have not found anything close to this recipe as long as I have lived in Chicago, which has a large Polish population. The vendors at Polish fairs who sell stuffed cabbages just don’t get it right. I have tried to reproduce it from memory, but have failed. Mom’s Polish cook books don’t have that particular recipe either which is source of my frustration. I guess, getting the recipe right will take much trial and error if I want to duplicate it, because recipes handed down but are not written down, call for a little of this and a little of that. They have a hard time living on.

Even if I do not find the secret to the best gołąbki, I will use dill more, just because it needs to be used in my kitchen and to have the wonders of dill live on.