The Nineteenth Century Eggplant.
The story of the eggplant which we began yesterday,
seems worthy of continuing for a little longer – a hundred years longer,
In the first half of the nineteenth century the
fruit (botanically it is a fruit) was little used in England and America. A
century later it had found a regular place in cookery books in America, with
Britain appearing to be lagging behind.
for cookery, in its various branches, (Philadelphia, 1840) by Eliza Leslie:
The purple egg plants are better than the white
ones. Put them whole into a pot with plenty of water, and simmer them till
quite tender. Then take them out, drain them, and (having peeled off the skins)
cut them up, and mash them smooth in a deep dish. Mix with them some grated
bread, some powdered sweet marjoram, and a large piece of butter, adding a few
pounded cloves. Grate a layer of bread over the top, and put the dish into the
oven and brown it. You must send it to table in the same dish.
Egg plant is sometimes eaten at dinner, but
generally at breakfast.
Do not pare your egg plants if they are to be fried,
but slice them about half an inch thick, and lay them an hour or two in salt
and water to remove their strong taste, which to most persons is very
unpleasant. Then take them out, wipe them, and season them with pepper only.
Beat some yolk of egg; and in another dish grate a sufficiency of bread-crumbs.
Have ready in a frying-pan some lard and batter mixed, and make it boil. Then
dip each slice of egg plant first in the egg, and then in the crumbs, till both
sides are well covered ; and fry them brown, taking care to have them done all
through, as the least rawness renders them very unpalatable.
Parboil them to take off their bitterness. Then slit
each one down the side, and extract the seeds. Have ready a stuffing made of
grated breadcrumbs, butter, minced sweet herbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and
beaten yolk of egg. Fill with it the cavity from whence you took the seeds, and
bake the egg plants in a Dutch oven. Serve them up with a made gravy poured
into the dish.
Interesting that Miss Leslie never mentions tomatoes or tomato sauce, and that apparently all the eggplants she'd ever had were bitter. I wonder when they stopped being so "strong," and when Americans discovered how good they were in tomato sauce?
That said, the first time I ever had eggplant was in the American South in 1970, and I think it must have been prepared almost exactly as Miss Leslie describes in "To Fry Egg Plant." Years later, also in the South, I had an eggplant casserole that could have been made using the "Stewed Egg Plant" recipe (but without the marjoram, unfortunately!).
I imagine the marriage of tomato sauce and eggplant had to wait for the arrival on US shores of sufficient numbers of Italian immigrants.
My first experience with an eggplant was when I was 4, living in Mexico while my parents went to university there. There were eggplants in the garden and I wanted to try one: I thought it was the most beautiful vegetable I had ever seen. So shiny and purple. When my Mom cooked one up, I was bitterly disappointed. Literally - Mom didn't know to soak it in salt, so it was a grey, bitter mush. That would have been around 1965.
Later in the late 1970's Mom tried again, with the aid of Julia Child. With good instructions this time, the bitterness was successfuly extracted and we declared eggplant pretty good after all.
Presumably, some people were eating non-bitter Asian types while this was going on, but it wasn't until the mid 1980's that the Asian types became readily available, and I'm talking about in a big, multicultural city like Toronto.
Since then even the European eggplants seem to have mysteriously lost their bitterness, although I still tend to salt them - just in case!
I never salt my eggplants and never find them bitter, no matter what type I use. But maybe I just like things that most people find bitter; I do love astringent teas and tisanes. Interesting post, I have never thought about cooking them stewed, and never for breakfast, will have to give this recipe a try; thank you!
I understand that what has happened is that since these earlier mentions of the bitterness of eggplant, that horticulturalists have developed non- bitter varieties, which do not need salting.
Post a Comment