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Jefferson-era Recipe: Eggplant
Time for the July installment of our monthly series in which we post a recipe from The Virginia House-wife, a recipe book published in 1824 by Mary Randolph, kinswoman to Thomas Jefferson. Leni Sorensen, our African American Research Historian and a culinary historian of national repute, has once again made this month's dish and here we include her notes and pictures.
Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-Wife, 1824; facsimile of first edition, Historical notes and commentaries by Karen Hess, University of South Carolina Press, 1984, p. 131-2
The original recipe from Mary Randolph:
The purple ones are best, get them young and fresh, pull out the stem, and parboil them to take off the bitter taste; cut them in slices an inch thick, but do not peel them, dip them in the yelk of an egg and cover them with grated bread, a little salt and pepper, when this has dried, cover the other side in the same way; fry them a nice brown. They are very delicious, tasting much like soft crabs. The egg plant may be dressed in another manner, scrape the rind and parboil them, cut a slit from one end to the other, take out the seeds, fill the space with a rich forcemeat, and stew them in well seasoned gravy, or bake them and serve up with gravy in the dish.
Isn’t Randolph’s use of ‘yelk’ for ‘yolk’ charming? I smile every time I come across it in her book as I try to picture how she pronounced the word.
I must admit I did not parboil the eggplant and as you can see in the photo the rather mature fruit available to me last week had seeds. Not minding the taste of the seeds I cooked and ate them anyway. But it is true that the younger, smaller, and fresher you get eggplant the lees seeds there will be.
I used homemade bread crumbs but Panko will do as well.
Because bread crumbs can burn easily you want to fry the slices in hot oil till just browned, turn them, and brown the other side quickly and if you feel the slices are not cooked all the way through put them on a rack on a cookie sheet and finish them in the oven for 10-15 min at 350 degrees. If you fry them on too low a heat they absorb too much oil.
I’m not sure I agree with MR’s description of the taste resembling that of soft shell crab but they are nonetheless delicious served as the centerpiece of a vegetarian meal with rice or couscous or quinoa, and salad. And of course eggplant prepared alá Mary Randolph would go very well with lamb.