Ina Lipkowitz Ph.D.

Words To Eat By

Eggplant vs. Aubergine

Madde Apple Parmesan & Swans Egge Rollatini.

Posted Jul 17, 2011

I for one, though, like that the glossy pear-shaped vegetable I cook so often for dinner should be called eggplant. It's a curious name considering that the large purple variety so vastly outnumbers the smaller white one which John Gerard described in his sixteenth-century Herball, or General Historie of Plants as having "the bignesse of a Swans egge" and which obviously gave the entire species the name we know it by today here in the United States—not to mention in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia where the varieties once cultivated were yellow or white and shaped like goose eggs.

When it wasn't being compared to a swan's egg, the eggplant was sometimes referred to as a "madde apple," no doubt because it belongs to the nightshade family which has long been known to include many highly toxic plants. Folk wisdom held that the eggplant would make the eater go mad. The tomato and potato, by the way, are also members of the family, and both were similarly viewed with suspicion when they were introduced to Europe from the New World. In Italian to this day, the eggplant is a melanzana, from the Latin mala insana, or "apple of insanity." (Idea for future post: why so many fruits and vegetables have names that trace back to apples.)

Here in the United States, however, eggplants have always been eggplants plain and simple—at least since Mary Randolph provided the very first all-American recipes for them in her 1824 The Virginia Housewife. Despite the fact that she calls for "purple ones," the recipes—two under the same heading—are titled, quite simply, "Egg Plant."

The purple ones are best, get them young and fresh, pull out the stem, and parboil them to take off the bitter taste; cut them in slices an inch thick, but do not peel them, dip them in the yelk [sic] of an egg and cover them with grated bread, a little salt and pepper, when this has dried, cover the other side in the same way; fry them a nice brown. They are very delicious, tasting much like soft crabs. The egg plant may be dressed in another manner, scrape the rind and parboil them, cut a slit from one end to the other, take out the seeds, fill the space with a rich forcemeat, and stew them in well seasoned gravy, or bake them and serve up with gravy in the dish.