A Fragrant Patch of Dill

“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.”

Elizabeth Lawrence (1904-1985; internationally known gardener, considered to be one of the top twenty-five gardeners of all time).

Last night for dinner, I had a hankering for something. I didn’t know quite what. I wanted something light but rich. Is that a contradiction or what? I guess it depends on how you look at it. To me, the two extremes seemed not only desirable but also possible.

Beyond that, all that I knew about my hankering was that I wanted it to be maybe just a little lemony and maybe just a little grassy and with maybe just a hint of anise or licorice. In that instant of maybe’s, I knew that my hankering needed to honor dill. Fresh dill. Fragrant dill.

Simply put, my stomach was growling me to pursue an entrée that was light, rich, lemony and dilly.

I cannot help but pause here and ask:

“Within those parameters, what entrée would you have plated for yourself?”

And, of course, you have every right to pause here and ask the same of me:

“Within those parameters, what entrée did you plate for yourself?”

And, as you know fully well, I will answer your question fully.

I’m always telling friends about my dinners, often sending them photos, whereupon they invariably message me that I need to feature my food on Instagram, whereupon I always ask:

“Does that mean that I have achieved the culinary level of Food Porn?”

I’m still waiting for answers.

But I won’t keep you waiting. I will tell you what I made.

As I drove to the grocery store to get some fresh ingredients–the essence of everything that I plate up–I started thinking about pasta in vodka sauce, but a red sauce seemed too heavy. How about pasta in a white vodka sauce? Perfect. Butter and cream equal richness. I could add marinated artichoke hearts for a subtle tang. The focal point could be ruffle-edged ravioli, domed with ground chicken. Stir in some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Top with an abundance of fresh dill. My. Perfect. Plate. And it was my perfect plate for that night’s dinner. Light. Rich. Lemony. Dilly.

As I sat at my table, feeling ever so satisfied with the luscious entrée that I created without benefit of recipe, I floated suddenly out of my mountain-top dining room. I floated out of the Shenandoah Valley where I live. I floated out of 2023.

I landed in 1957. I landed in my West Virginia boyhood hometown. I landed in the yard where I had played so often with Stevie, a childhood friend.

I went right past the galvanized tubs, always there in his yard, always with one or more catfish swimming around in fresh clean water to soften the muddiness inherent in their taste.

I went right past the foldable, aluminum-frame, green-and-white webbed lawn chairs, circling a ribbed, split-oak basket filled with corn, hands of all ages rhythmically shucking, tossing the shucks and silks into brown paper sacks getting fuller and fuller.

I went right past the two side-by-side mulberry trees–umbrellas above us–as we sat beneath, competing with the darting black-capped, gray catbirds for the ripest, thumb-sized mulberries certain to stain our clothes as much as they purpled our teeth and tongues.

I went right past the stone granary–stifling hot inside from the sun outside, blazing down on the uninsulated tin roof. On the lower floor, corn drying in chicken-wire bins; on the upper, walnuts blackening on thick, chestnut floors.

I went right past Stevie’s aproned mother, flinging rainbows of dishwater into the kitchen-stoop air.

I went right past all of those things.

Instead, I floated to a warm, misty summer rain falling on a large patch of dill, large beyond the need to measure, but at least 30 feet by 30 feet–large enough for two young boys to lose themselves.

Stevie and I would strip down to our skivvies and run with wild, barefoot abandon through the patch of dill, as mindless of our innocence as we were mindful of the heady fragrance scenting the air and our bodies as we rubbed against the dill on those summer days when misty rain fell.

And so, it was. My impromptu dinner–built around little more than a hankering that begged for fulfillment–took me back to that self-same patch of dill. It took me back with such vibrant and vivid certainty that if I had a patch of dill right here on my mountain and if the warm summer rain fell upon it now as it fell upon it then, I vow that I would–in this, my 75th summer–strip down to my skivvies and run barefoot through the enchanted patch, confident that my rubbings against the dill would burst wide open those magical days of childhood innocence, as fragrant as ever again.