Book of Marvels
Sunday, August 13, 2006
My thoughts turn to eggplant

My friend Lucette has been asking me for my mother's eggplant recipe, which I served her two weeks ago and will serve her yet again in a few days.

Who wouldn't think of eggplant these days? The farmers market is full of them: long graceful lavender ones, round ones that look like they're wrapped in purple ribbons, and of course the ebony beauties on the right. I love everything to do with eggplant. I love picking out the shiniest best of pile at the market. Washing them, watching the water bead on their skin, admiring the way they mirror the room as they dry. Slicing into the white flesh. I have one recipe that calls for salting the slices, laying them out on towels, and sweating out the water. I always feel as if I'm ministering to delicate creatures--sponging away their beads of sweat, turning them over to watch the dew rise on their other sides, sponging again. Well--then cooking and eating them.

My mother always grew all her own eggplants. When we lived in Oroville--very small town California--she had a huge garden where she grew just about every vegetable I'd ever heard of. I'm not sure if she was all-organic then--I think she would have scoffed at this as an ill-conceived notion, since she had gardened through the depression and figured that anything that increased yield had to be good. But because of that same depression experience, she couldn't stand to waste anything. Thus every scrap of leftover went to her compost bins, which she tended as diligently as she tended her children. She lives in an apartment now and has no compost bin. Still, she gasps when someone throws away so much as a teabag! We were trained to snip off the string and tag and the staple that held them, and put the rest of the teabag into the container under the sink that held the compost materials.

I've been looking for the cookbook where my mother's recipe first appeared. It was in an old Omega Nu cookbook from Oroville--maybe from the 60s or 70s?--where the women were all Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. Harold Jones. No-name women! I think the cookbook is buried under some of the piles upstairs and will only emerge when I leave Cleveland. She dictated this version to me a few years ago.

Kathleen Ohlson's Eggplant Parmisan

Three medium eggplants, sliced, brushed with olive oil and broiled on each side until lightly browned
Grated parmesan cheese
About four medium-sized tomatoes
One chopped green pepper
One large chopped onion
One and a half pound thickly sliced Monterey Jack Cheese

Put a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan, sprinkle with chopped onion and pepper, and then add salt & pepper. Add a layer of tomatoes, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, then lay slices of jack cheese on top. Make a second layer of everything except the jack cheese (except I think that the last time I made it, I included a second layer of jack cheese and it was fine). Bake at 325 for one and a half hours; turn down to 250 if it cooks too fast. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before eating so that some of the juice reabsorbs. (I also think that the last time I made it, I cooked it at 350 for one hour. Oh well-- you get the idea)

It's very very good.
I'd say it's very very very good: at least 3 verys.
Looks yummy! I'll give it a try. I have a favorite veggie lasagna recipe with eggplant as base.
Glad I found your blog (via a comment you left on an ornamental grasses post) so I can try this recipe. I have too many eggplants in my garden right now!

(I'm a "neighbor" of yours, by the way... over in Lakewood.)
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