Oh, the eggplant
Eggplants have a very rich and vibrant if somewhat controversial history, particularly in their medieval European incarnation. From their Asian and Middle Eastern roots as a staple food, to their status as possible causes for madness in England a few short centuries ago, eggplants live up to their unique appearance. This appearance still invites speculation. But today investigation into this exotic fruit is mainly into eggplants’ possible uses in the kitchen and ancillary health benefits rather than the superstition–laden mysteriousness that once surrounded them. Eggplants were first cultivated in India about 4000 years ago where they were used in a variety of dishes.
Recipe that I like is as follows:
1. Slice eggplant to looks like French fries
2. Roll in wheat flour
3. Roll in egg whites
4. Roll in panko breadcrumbs that you have added garlic and a little red pepper flakes to. Salt and pepper to your taste
5. Bake 15-20 minutes in oven on 350 degrees
6. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese while hot
I have found sometimes when I cook eggplant like a steak, I can soak in salt water to take the bitter taste out. Most of the time they are sweet and you do not have to soak. When you start to cut them and they are hard to slice that is a sure sign that it will be bitter so prepare to soak it for about 30 minutes.
Thomas Jefferson, a noted horticulturalist, author, and President of the United States, brought the eggplant into wide recognition in early America. Technically the Spanish did bring it with them during the age of exploration, but it was not before Jefferson’s work that the eggplant enjoyed any widespread acceptance. Germany was something of an early adopter of the eggplant despite its mysterious reputation. Purple, white, and brown varieties began infiltrating kitchens in the sixteenth century.
Eggplants are a very versatile and diverse fruit even if we still call them vegetables.
In much of Europe the eggplant is called aborigine. A few centuries ago northern European people had some rather superstitious ideas about the eggplant including the perception that it could produce insanity—a myth that led to it also being called the “Mad Apple.” It is not surprising that some would attach strange or mystical properties to eggplants given their odd shape and color. It was partly their botanical relationship to deadly nightshade that was a cause for concern. Despite the relationship, there is nothing poisonous about the eggplant. It has received some “bad press” in some regions, just as the tomato, a cousin, did.