< Vegetables



Over the 19th century the eggplant insinuated itself into the taste of the Americans. At the beginning of the century, only white and black southerners ate it readily, calling it Guinea Squash in token of its West African genesis. They tended to eat the West African way—battered and fried in fat. William N. White, the south’s most eloquent horticulturist on the eve of the Civil War, preserved a version of the ancient recipe in his 1857 handbook, Gardening in the South: “Cut the egg-plant in slices a quarter of an inch thick. To remove the acrid taste, piles the slices on a plate with alternate layers of salt; raise one side of the plate, that the juice may run off. In half an hour wash them well in fresh water, and fry them quite brown in batter.”[1] White commented on the fact that eggplant was an acquired taste; “they are not commonly liked at first, but after a few trials become very agreeable to most tastes, and are esteemed a delicacy.” Indeed, in regions where African-American cooking did not greatly influence public taste, the penchant in dressing “vegetable marrow” was to transform it into a form of English baked pudding, boiling it, mashing it, adding egg yolks, bread, and seasoning it before relegating it to the oven. Despite prepping the vegetable in ways deeply familiar, northerners took their time embracing the eggplant’s qualities. In 1839 a commentator in The Farmer & Gardener, and Live-Stock Breeder and Manager magazine, observed, “This is considered a delicious vegetable; but little attention has, however, been paid to its cultivation, and it is seldom seen in our markets; but in the southern States great quantities are cultivated, and sold in their markets.”[2] Eggplant recipes only became a fixture in cook books during the 1840s. Curiously that name finally adopted to designate the vegetable had emerged in the 18th century among European horticulturists to describe the small, white colored ornamental eggplants grown as specimens and exhibition plants, not the purple, gourd-fruited vegetables that dominated culinary use. The name’s eventual universal adoption testifies to the dominance of the agricultural press and the international cohort of horticultural savants who filled its pages.

Throughout the 1800s, instructions on how to grow the plant did not greatly very from the first directions published by Bernard M’Mahon in 1806: “This delicious vegetable may be propagated, by sowing the seed, on a slight hot-bed, the beginning of this month [April], or in March; and towards the middle or latter part of May, they should be planted in a rich warm piece of ground, at the distance of two feet and a half asunder, for the purple, or two feet for the white kind; and if kept clean, and a little earth drawn up to their stems, when about a foot high they will produce plenty of fruit.”[3] Eggplants are annuals, grown from seed that takes substantial time to germinate. While growing care had to be take to limit the depredations of the potato bug, that particularly savored eggplant foliage and fruit. While the insect throve on egg plant leaves, neither animals nor man can eat them without suffering narcotic poisoning. Gardener Robert Buist recommended regular watering of the plant.

1. William N. White, Gardening for the South; or the Kitchen and Fruit Garden (New York: C. M. Saxton & Co., 1857), pp. 267-68.
2. “Egg Plant,” The Farmer & Gardener, and Live-Stock Breeder and Manager 6, 1 (May 1, 1839), p. 7.
3. Bernard M’Mahon, The American Gardener’s Calendar (Philadelphia: B. Graves, 1806), pp. 319-20.

Large Prickly-Stemmed Purple    History

—the most primitive widely cultivated version

Smooth-Stemmed Purple    History

--a culinary favorite in the 1850s

Long Purple    History

—Sometimes called the Long Blue, the classic skinny Guinea Squash

White Eggplant [4]    History

An ornamental specimin plant

4. Robert Buist, The Kitchen Gardener (New York: C. M. Saxton, 1850), p. 55.

Improved Large Purple    History

Large New York Purple    History

—the favorite truck farming variety in the 1880s & ‘90s

Black Pekin    History

—lustrously skinned

Egg Plant Dressed as Oysters (Widdifield’s New Cook Book 1856)    History

Wash an egg plant, and boil it until it is perfelctly soft, but not broken. Take out all the inside, mash it and season with a piece of butter, pepper and salt to your taste. Beat the yolks of three eggs very thick. Crumb a stale baker’s loaf, and season it with salt and pepper. Have ready a pan of hot lard and butter mixed; take a spoonful of the plant, dip it into the egg, cover it with the crumbs, and drop it into the pan to fry. Take the back of the spoon and flatten the top of the plant, so as to form the shape of an oyster. When the under side is done, put some egg and bread over the top, turn it and fry a light brown. Serve hot for breakfast. Hannah Widdifield, Widdifield’s New Cook Book; or, Practical Receipts for the Housewife (Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1856), pp. 105-06.

Fried Egg Plant (Virginia Housewife 1838)    History

Purple ones are best. Take young fresh ones, putt out the stem, parboil them to take out the bitter taste, cut them in slices an inch thick without peeling them, dip them in the yolk of an egg, and cover them with grated bread, and a little salt and pepper; when one side has dried, cover the other in the same way, then fry them a nice brown. They are very delicious, tasting much like soft crabs. Mrs. Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook (Baltimore: Plaskitt, Fite & Co., 1838), p. 108.

Broiled Egg Plant (What to Eat 1863)    History

Split the egg plant in two, peel it, and take the see out, put it in a crockery ish, sprinkle on chopped parsley, salt, and pepper; cover the dish, and leave thus about forty minutes; then take it off, put it on a greased and warmed gridiron, and on a good fire; baste with a little sweet oil, and seasoning from the crockery dish, and serve with the drippings when properly broiled. It is a delicious dish. Pierre Blot, What to Eat, and How to Cook It (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1863). p. 182.

To Bake Guinea Squash, or Egg-Plant (Carolina Housewife 1847)    History

Parboil the squashes until they are tender, changing the water two of three times, to extract the bitterness. Then cut them lengthwise in two, and scoop out the inside, being careful not to break the skin.—Season the pulp of the squashes with pepper, salt, crumbs of bread, butter, and a slice of onion, chopped fine (this last ingredient, if not liked, may be omitted). Mix all well together, and fill the skins of the squashes with the mixture lay them on a plate, and bake in a Dutch oven. They do not take long to boil, but require two or three hours to be baked brown. [Sarah Rutledge], The Carolina Housewife, or House and Home: by a Lady of Charleston (Charleston: W. R. Babcock & Co., 1847), pp. 100-101.

Breakfast Egg Plant (Skillful Housewife’s Book 1852)    History

The purple egg plant is better than the white ones. Boil them whole in planty of water until tender, then take them up, drain them after having taken off the skins, cut them up and wash them in a deep dish or pan; mix with them some grated bread, powdered sweet marjoram, and a large piece of butter, and a few pounded cloves. Grate a layer of bread over the top, and brown it in an oven. Send it to table in the same dish. Mrs. L. G. Abell, The Skillful Housewife’s Book: or Complete Guide to Domestic Cookery (New York: Orange Judd & Co., 1852), p. 106.

Mashed Eggplant-A very fine was to dress Egg-Plant (Mrs. Hale’s New Book of Cookery 1852)     History

Take as many eggplants as the size of your family requires—pare, quarter and boil them till soft enough to mash like turnips. Mash them, add a little bread crumb soaked in milk, butter, chopped parsley, an onion boiled and mashed, some butter, pepper, and salt. Mix these well together, and pour it into a baking dish; cover the top with grated bread, and bake it for half an hour. Sarah Josepha Hale, Mrs. Hale’s New Book of Cookery (New York: H. Long & Brother, 1852), p. 234.

Stuffed Egg-plants a la Creole (Unrivalled Cook-Book 1886)    History

Parboil the egg-plants; cut them in halves; scoop out the inside, being careful not to break the outside skin, which you refill later with the following stuffing: Mix up the insight of the egg-plant with a slice of boiled ham hopped very fine, bread crumbs, butter, salt, and pepper—shrimps if you have them, make a delicious addition; bind this stuffing with the yolk of an egg and fill your egg-plant skins; sprinkle with powdered bread crumbs, put a small lump of butter on each piece, and bake. Mrs. Washington, The Unrivalled Cook-Book and Housekeeper’s Guide (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886), p. 192.

Vegetable Marrow or Gourd (Complete Cook 1846)    History

Gather the fruit when the size of an egg; put it into boiling water, with a little salt; boil it until it is tender, which will be in about half an hour; cut it in slices half an inch thick; lay it on buttered toast; sprinkle it with pepper and salt; pour melted butter over it. If the fruit has seeds in it, the seedy part must be scouped out, but they are not so good in this . The fruit may be cut in slices raw, and fried in butter, and served with melted butter and vinegar. J. M. Sanderson, The Complete Cook (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1846), p. 116.

Stewed Egg Plant (Good Housekeeping 1887)    History

Slice and cut into dice half of a peeled egg plant, and throw into cold, salted water half an hour. Cook till very soft in boiling, salted water, and drain in a colander; throw back into the saucepan, and pour over it a pint of rich milk thickened with an every tablespoonful of flour; add one of butter and teaspoonful of salt. Let it cook till it thickens. Meantime, have one or two beaten eggs in the ish in which the vegetable is to be served, into which pour the egg plant while stirring briskly, to prevent the curdling of the egg. This makes a rarely excellent dish. “Stewed Egg Plant,” Good Housekeeping a Family Journal 5 (May 14-Oct 29), p 237.

Egg-Plant Pudding (Housekeeping in Old Virginia 1879)    History

Quarter the egg-plant and lay it in salt and water the overnight, to extract the bitterness. The next day, parboil, peel and chop fine, and add bread crumbs (one teacup to a pint of egg-plant), eggs (two to a pint of egg-plant), salt, pepper, and butter to taste; enough milk to make a good batter. Bake in an earthen dish twenty minutes. Mrs. R. L. O. Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia (Louisville: John P. Morton, 1879), p. 249.

Vegetable Marrow Tart (Jennie June’s American Cookery Book 1878)    History

Peel and core the marrow, cut into small pieces, boil until quite soft, drain the water well from it, and beat with a fork until all the lumps are out. Have ready three eggs, well beaten with a little milk, mix with the marrow until it is in the consistency of custard; sweeten it, and add a little grated nutmeg; pour into shallow dishes, lines with short paste, similar to baked custards. Mrs. J. C. Croly, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book (New York: Excelsior Publishing House, 1878), p. 139.

Egg Plant Salad (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Peel two middle-sized Egg Plants, cut them in slices a quarter of an inch thick, sprinkle each slice with a little salt, and put them together again. After half an hour press them gently, to extract the moisture. Then dry them on a napkin. Fry them lightly in clarified butter, then drain them on a napkin. When cold cut them in small pieces, put them in a salad bowl, with some scalloped pickled sturgeon, a spoonful of grated horse-radish mixted with mustard, a clove of fine chopped garlic, a little fine chopped parsley, and a handful of water cress. Season them with salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. Mix the whole well together, then arrange them properly, and garnish them with stoned olives and hard boiled eggs cut into quarters. Jules Arthur Harder, Physiology of Taste: Harder’s book of Practical American Cookery, 6 vols. (San Francisco, 1885), p. 155.