history of eggplants and recipes

“The Eggplant” History & Origins + Popular Recipes

Eggplants are known as aubergines or something similar in British English and many other languages. Eggplant is used in both Australian and American English, while aubergine is becoming more popular in Australia. Aubergine is derived from the French name for eggplant, which is derived from the Sanskrit vtiga-gama, which means “wind-curing plant” (if we skip a few stages).

Origins: Who Discovered Eggplants?

Many historians claim that eggplant originated in India and has been grown there for over 4000 years. The plant is a part of the Family Solanaceae, that contains nightshades like potatoes and tomatoes, and is recognized as aubergine in France and England. It’s more accurately referred to as a fruit, much as tomatoes.

But what is the significance of the name eggplant? While a pear-shaped purple cultivar has long been the most popular in the United States, there are hundreds of varieties in hues varying from off-white to flaky pink to grayish purple. Yes, sometimes it’s the size, form, and color of eggs, earning them the African moniker “garden eggs.” 

History of Eggplants

Around 1400, Arab merchants introduced eggplant to Europe and Africa. Thomas Jefferson brought the vegetable to the United States, possibly with seeds from France or from newly arriving African slaves who conducted all of the actual planting at Monticello.

Jefferson worked with eggplant, including both white and purple eggplants between over 350 crops in his 1812 notebook. Although Jefferson had no clue what to do about the vegetable, by the 1840s, it had become a staple of the southern cuisine, roasted and filled with breadcrumbs or rice.

It wasn’t till midway in the nineteenth century that refugees from the Middle East and Italy introduced their eggplant dishes to America that it became a famous vegetable, but its reputation remained limited to the East Coast and the South for most of the 20th century.

Eggplant takes a very long time to grow relative to other vegetables, hence it doesn’t arrive at local farms until September.  While East Asians favor slim, long kinds, Middle Easterners prefer the more rotund forms, which may be roasted for baba ganoush or sliced for salads.

There is no agreement on where eggplant originated; the plant species has been identified as grown in India, where it still grows wild, Africa, or South Asia. Since prehistory, it has been farmed in southern and eastern Asia.

Qimin Yaoshu, a traditional Chinese agricultural book produced in 544 CE, has the oldest known written account of the plant. It was cultivated across the Mediterranean region by the Arabs in the early Middle Ages, who brought it to Spain in the 8th century, as shown by the various Arabic and North African names for it, as well as the absence of old Greek and Roman names.

How to cultivate aubergines was mentioned in a book on agriculture written by Ibn Al-Awwam in 12th-century Arabic Spain. Later middle-ages Catalan and Spanish documents survive. Until the 16th century, the aubergine was unknown in England. In 1597, an English botanical treatise characterized the furious Apple as follows:

This shrub may be found virtually everywhere in Egypt, with fruit the size of a large cucumber…. We had one in our London gardens, where it produced blossoms but died as winter approached before ripening: 

despite the fact that it produced fruit of the size of a goose egg one exceptionally temperate year… but never to full ripeness.

The fruit was formerly thought to be particularly dangerous due to the plant’s association with numerous other nightshades. Because of the presence of solanine, the flowers and leaves may be deadly if taken in excessive numbers.

In legend, the eggplant has a unique position. The eggplant is said to induce insanity in 13th-century Italian legend. In 19th-century Egypt, when the eggplant was in season in the summer, insanity was reported to be “more widespread and more aggressive.”

Some Popular Recipe Dishes That Use Eggplant

Greek Moussaka
Coined as the Greek’s version of lasagna made with pasta. Moussaka is basically not an everyday food dish and is usually served in small square shaped pieces. 

Rigatoni Alla Norma
A very tasty pasta dish inspired by Sicilian cuisine in Italy.. It is made with crushed peeled tomatoes, fried eggplant and topped with grated salted ricotta cheese.

Eggplant Parmigiana
Breaded and deep fried slices of eggplant layered on top of each other with tomato sauce and cheese.

Eggplant Spread
Also name “Baba Ganoush” made with eggplant, roasted garlic, and tahini. Usually served as an appetizer, or side dish, a classic recipe that consists of mashed cooked eggplant that is mixed with seasonings, olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini.

Stuffed Baked Eggplants
Stuffed eggplants are an easy recipe, a great dish very simple and tasty to prepare. Eggplants are carved and filled with select meats and vegetables.

Related Recipes & Food Dishes

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