History of Eggplant as Food
I have always acknowledged to my friends about my mother’s culinary skills and her special knack for preparing those sumptuous “Baingan ka Barta”. Well for all of my American Colleagues, Baingan ka Barta is one of the chief attractions of an authentic North Indian cuisine, which is prepared using eggplant.
Through this blog, I would like to pay my homage to India, which is known as the motherland of the eggplant. The history of eggplant begins in 3 A.D, when they started appearing as the vegetable around the kitchens of several Asian homes. By 11 A.D, eggplant reached Europe and became an indispensible fixture in their kitchens. Americans were pretty late in embracing eggplant as a part of their cuisine. Till the late 20th century, Americans used eggplant for ornamental purposes.
Till medieval times, Eggplant was notoriously known as “mad apple”, “bad egg” and “apple of madness” due to the madness inflicting characteristics shown by some members of the plant family Solanaceae, to which the eggplant belongs. Even after securing their fixture in several Mediterranean, European and Indian dishes, eggplants are still known as "mala insane" meaning “apple of madness”. Eggplant was introduced in the Mediterranean plains during the 9th and 10th centuries by the Arab agriculturists. Many of the medieval Arabic cookery manuscripts talk in great details about using eggplant in several food preparations.
The earliest reference of eggplant in Europe is found in the “Calendar of Cordoba”, which was compiled around 961 in Spain. The cookbooks from Islamic Spain which were compiled around the 13th century, mentioned several recipes using eggplant.
Eggplant Parmesan is one of the authentic preparations of southern Italy. There has been a long debate about the origin of the word parmesan, but the first reference about the dish occurs in the cook book Saporetto, written by Simone Prudenzani (1387-1440), where a particular recipe makes quick reference about the parmigiano cheese. In the cook book Cuoco Galante published by Neapolitan chef Vincenzo Corrado in 1786, a prominent mention is made about cooking eggplant with Alla Parmegiana, which was about seasoning eggplant with butter, herbs, cinnamon and other spices and garnishing with grated parmigiano cheese, and covered it with cream sauce made of egg yolks before baking it in oven.
Uh! That means eggplant has a very luminous history as a fruit! Yes botanically speaking eggplant is known as a fruit rather than a vegetable. So, instead of calling it “mad apple” let’s try to call it “Sensible apple”.