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Impressing his diner guests with new plant foods

Some of the oldest filing cabinet drawers in my head contain completely falsified information, put there accidentally by misplaced assumptions, plain guessing or utter laziness. Disguised as truths, these fables have a tendency to present themselves to me as worth spreading around, often linked to a feeling or an emotion, making it harder to expose them for what they really are: fabrications.

Discovering the first aubergines of the year in our veggie garden at Les Pierres today, made me want to praise this vegetable as probably the most French of everything we are trying to grow here. I have so many delightful memories of typical French dishes, like Aubergines à la Bordelaise or Millefeuilles d’Aubergines, all cooked and served in such a classic style that I deemed further research to be unnecessary and useless. Sometimes you can safely trust your gut, right?

However aubergine, or eggplant if you’re American, is not only not a vegetable but a fruit and a berry to be more specific, and there’s also very little French in its origin, rather pointing to India or China as the discoverers of this delicacy in the fifth century.

It was Louis XIV, King of France during the 1600s, who reputedly introduced aubergines into his garden, taking great interest in impressing his diner guests with new plant foods. Nobody really liked them at first though, as evidenced by the description “fruits as large as pears, but with bad qualities” and they were commonly believed to cause fever and epilepsy.
By the time of the French Revolution, it appears the egg shaped fruits were only known in the southern regions of France and the earliest recipe for it in a French cookbook dates to 1852.

Fortunately, one of our favorite dishes this time of year does have a typical French background, linking it mostly to the Provence region. Made from stewed tomato, zucchini, onion, garlic and most significantly aubergine, the French usually eat Ratatouille with a piece of baguette, in summer also cold.

Relieved to demonstrate I’m not a complete crotcheteer, I dare also reveal we often divert from its heritage, turning it into a Shakshouka styled dish with baked eggs. Not so French, but very tasty!

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