Monday, September 10, 2012

Eggplants -- or are they aubergines?

Picture: Fruits R Us

Like tomatoes and peppers, eggplants belong to a plant family called the deadly nightshade.

Along with potatoes and spinach, this plant family includes belladonna, known since ancient times as a poison. Even though it was toxic, it was used by women as a beauty enhancer, and thus acquired it's name, which means beautiful lady.

Eggplants are perfectly edible. They grow on prickly vines. Chinese eggplants are longer, thinner, and less tough. Kitazawa Seed Co. carries a whole variety of Japanese eggplants.

Eggplants are in season for the next couple of months. The name, used only in North America, is presumably derived from the shape. But if eggplants were eggs, they'd be mighty large ones. Emu eggs, maybe, or ostrich eggs.

In the UK, this vegetable is called by its French name, aubergine. The history of this name is circuitous, according to Bill Casselman. Its roots originated in Sanskrit and entered the Spanish language with the arrival of the Moors, coming in by way of Persian and then Arabic, as a corruption of al berginia. The French picked it up as aubergine and the English took it from there.

Though I have often wondered whether the word aubergine is related to auberge, the French word for inn, I've found no evidence that this is the case.

Aubergine is also the name of the rich purple colour of this vegetable.

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