Eggplants, or melanzane, were grown in abundance on our farm. Each winter, my parents received mail orders for hundreds of pounds of these beauties from Italian families throughout British Columbia and Alberta. As the melanzane were harvested, they were packed in used cardboard boxes, in which Calona Wines had received their glass wine jugs. Each morning, the packed boxes were brought to the train station for delivery to families, who would preserve the eggplants for their winter use. There, they would be fried, roasted or salted and pickled.
Melananze are warm weather lovers, and prefer rich, but well drained soil. They are subject to wilt and other moisture loving diseases, so do best when one can avoid watering their leaves.
In locations, including Burma, India, Northern Thailand, and Southern China, melanzane plants are native species that have been cooked and consumed for centuries. The wild melanzane plants were domesticated and cultivated, beginning in ancient times. A 300 BC Sanskrit document made note of the plant and discussed the fruit in positive terms. In China, evidence of melanzane cultivation was found in documents from the Western Jin Dynasty, written as early as the 3rd century. The eggplant reached Southern Italy by the 9th century. Arabs brought the fruits along with them as they expanded their territory into the region.
Melanzane was consumed by fearless foodies in the Calabrian and Sicilian regions of Italy, although some people were initially wary of the funny egg-shaped produce. In ancient Roman gardens, white-colored melanzane species may have been cultivated as purely ornamental plants.
The name melanzane is derived from the name mala insana , meaning mad apple. This Renaissance-era term for the plant, sprung from the belief that the fruit made people angry and full of melancholy.
The melanzane plant has many names: aubergine (from the French), brinjal (South African and South Asian), guinea squash (South American) and melongene, the word used in the Caribbean.
In early cultures, eggplant was considered a medicinal ingredient as well as a food source. All parts of the plants, including the roots, were used to treat ailments. Some illnesses thought to be treated with melanzane include: asthma, dental issues, diabetes and intestinal upset.
Other ancient medical practitioners believed the eggplant caused more problems than it cured. Everything from pimples to epilepsy was blamed on the melanzane.
It was once thought that salting and soaking removed risks from the plant. Many traditional Italian chefs continue to salt and soak eggplant before cooking, but the steps are not necessary to enjoy the healthy fruit.
The earliest detailed reference “Eggplant Parmesan” occurred in an 18th century cookbook. The dish was made with butter, cream sauce, cinnamon, and other spices and then covered with Parmesan cheese. The dish included tomatoes, after their arrival in the New World, around the same time period.
“A short history of Melanzane, or eggplant” from Picano’s Italian Grille (Michigan) July 25, 2018
14 Gorgeous Eggplant Varieties from Four Root Farm (Connecticut)
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Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening