Paisley Plant of the Week: “Gretel” Aubergine

Paisley Plant of the Week: “Gretel” Aubergine

Aubergine, eggplant, melongene, brinjal, or guinea squash, call them what you will, just make sure I have plenty in the garden.

Confession time, until very recently, five years ago, I was not an eggplant fan.

You see there had been an eggplant “incident”.

I, in all my wisdom, at the tender age of 15, you know, when you still know everything, decided I would cook for our family. Maria made the same thing every week.  You could construct a calendar by her. Monday meatloaf, Tuesday lamb, Wednesday chicken, etc. So after some considerable buttering up of my Grampa Wilson, I made my pitch. I laid it on thick, Maria had enough work to do, I could use more responsibilities, we really needed more nutritional meals. You name it, I used it. And…it worked!

Well sort of, he gave me Thursday. Thursday was to be my night, all me, oh forever more, what had I done? Of course, Grampa Wilson had seen through the buttering up, and trumped me with ease. Maria and Carlos stayed for supper every night but Grampa said that on Thursdays, their whole family would be coming. Supper for ten every Thursday night. Glub…glub…I’m drowning here!

So, I did what I always do when I find myself in a conundrum. I  hit the library and every local book store. I came home with scads of books. Over the next week I came up with a one month plan for Thursday night meals. Week one went without a hitch. We had stuffed pork chops, baby carrots, salad with homemade vinaigrette and apple pie for dessert. Easy peasy. Well sort of, it’s really hard cooking for that many people.

Week two…the eggplant incident.

Now as I’ve already said, I was 15 and I did know everything. Week two is Ratatouille. So easy a rat could make a whole restaurant with it, right? Yes, well there seems to be a little more to it than that. What turned out of that kitchen was so beautiful, it was a kaleidoscope of colors with the eggplant, the tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, Parmesan, garlic…it was beautiful and shiny.

Unfortunately, we had to eat it, not take pictures with it.

What it was, was bitter. Very bitter. Unbelievably, disgustingly, undeniably bitter. Because it had so many veggies in it, I had not done sides. I had made Rosemary bread and custard for dessert but bread and custard were not going to fill ten hungry bellies.

In true Grampa Wilson fashion, he saved my bacon. In 45 minutes he made a London Broil and mashed parsnips that, with the custard and bread took care of things.

I thought for sure Thursday cooking duties were over for me, and I must say I was a little relieved, they were overrated. I had done it for two whole weeks and that was about enough.

Fast forward 22ish years. I have never attempted eggplant again. By this time I have my own household, a husband, four kids, a huge garden. I come across seeds for white eggplant. White eggplant? Fascinating. I have some room in one corner of the garden, so why not?

It ends up, Eggplant, where have you been all these years?

So, if for any reason, you haven’t tried growing eggplant, let me introduce you to a real beauty to tame the beast.

Eggplant: Family Solanaceae, Genus Solanum

Like a tomato and potato in the family of the  nightshade. They are natives of India, but are grown everywhere. The particular eggplant I will tell you about today is “Gretel”. “Gretel” is the reason I started to grow and love eggplants. To start with, “Gretel” is white, not purple. “Gretel” is long and skinny, not teardrop at all.

The second great thing about “Gretel” is that the plant is beautiful. The compact, erect, stately plants have the prettiest violet colored flowers. These are a welcome change from all the yellow blooms on the cucumbers and squash.

The third and most important reason to try “Gretel” is that”Gretel”, when picked small (4 to 5 inches) is not bitter at all. There is no need to soak overnight (I wish I had known about that, back when I knew everything). It is tender and delicious!  I’m giving you two recipes that will give you an idea about the versatility of this noble plant.

Eggplant Cake

2 Cups Gretel (or other Asian variety aubergine) Ping Tung works well

1 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350. Wash,cook and puree aubergine. Put puree in cheescloth and squeeze out excess juice. (You can also press through a colander if you want, the idea is just to get out all the extra moisture). In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients together and add to the dry, mix until incorporated. Pour into a well greased 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Drizzle with your favorite drizzle or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Streusel is also delightful on this cake.

Streusel topping for Eggplant Cake

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix all these together, sprinkle on warm, slightly cooled cake.

Recipe #2 Scalloped Eggplant

  • 5 or 6 eggplants (the long skinny kind) I think it would be just 1 of the traditional large teardrop variety. I use Gretel
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • 12 ounces grated Cheddar cheese — reserve a few tablespoons for topping
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup cracker crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • butter

Preparation:

Boil eggplant cubes until tender, about 5 to 10 minutes; drain well. In a lightly buttered baking dish, combine eggplant, parsley, the cheese (save a little out for topping), eggs, onion, and cracker crumbs. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, salt and pepper and dot with butter. Bake at 350° F. for about 25 minutes or until firm.
Serves 4.
I triple this recipe for my family of 6. We have a little leftover and it’s always enjoyed as a luncheon snack the next day.
I do hope you’ll give this nice eggplant a try this year. It is well worth your time.
Although the “Eggplant Incident of 1983″ did put me off eggplant for many years, it was not without it’s redemptive properties.
My Grampa Wilson told me I was still to cook dinner on Thursdays but I had to work with Maria to go over recipes. While I never again had a total flop on Thursday, it was definitely hit and miss. After three months I realized that I had done exactly what Maria had. Thursday became Spaghetti/Lasagna night. I would switch up the breads and we always had a different dessert, but other than that, you could count on the Spaghetti.
That Maria was one smart cookie.
One final note. The night of the eggplant incident, when my Grampa went to the kitchen to make the London Broil, Maria’s family was quietly, politely eating the bitter, soul puckering ratatouille. If they had spoken English, they would have been saying, “Thank you” and “Pass the salt”. I have been in awe of that for the last 28 years.
Where can you get yours?
Final, final note, it’s super fun to grow these with their counterparts of “Hansel” which is black (very dark purple) and “Fairy Tale” which is striped white and purple.
“Hansel”
“Gretel”
“Fairy Tale”
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