My relationship with eggplant over the years has not been one of gastronomic appreciation. The purplest member of the nightshade family, despite technically being a berry, is not — in my opinion — a very tasty treat. Still, people have attempted to persuade me to see it otherwise. What it is about the eggplant specifically that inspires such evangelical behavior I’m not sure, but it seems everybody has that killer recipe that’ll win me over, and the opinion that nobody else knows how to cook it.
Historical context: suffer the children
Growing up in the Schmiesing household one thing was abundantly clear around mealtime, no matter how passionately you made your case for not liking what was being served (and believe me, my sisters and I had a passion that could — under most circumstances — make your average parent cave), you were going to eat what was on your plate. End of story. That’s it.
“This is not a restaurant”, my mom would say, “There isn’t any ordering”.
Most of the time we would accept our collective fate — albeit with some persuasive words from our parents — and get through the said distasteful item with as little chewing and tongue contact with it as possible. But there were those times when something was served often enough that it almost began to feel as though we were the butt of some sadistic joke. My mom’s battered eggplant with maple syrup was one of those suspicious dishes.
After years of being served this impressively horrible dish almost monthly the seeds of revolution began to sprout and rebellion became eminent. Our sheer numbers (4 to 2) gave us the confidence to stand tall, except the likely blowback and to say, “Enough is enough. We are but children, why must you torture us so?”
Of course, we had no idea what would come of our insolence, but what did was so absurdly funny, heartwarming, and like O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi in its irony that to this day I am forever grateful for the eggplant.
“I make it because your father likes it”, my mom said.
In unison we turned to stare down the apparent source of our eternal suffering… my pop. Sure, my mom may have been making the dish, but it was at the request of my father — the responsibility was his.
“No I don’t”, my father replied, looking a little confused and quite clearly feeling the heat from his four children’s eyes bearing up on him.
“Yes you do”, my mom said. An embarrassed smile starting to slide over her face. “Why else would make it so often?”
“I don’t know, I thought you liked it.”
“No, I make it because you like it”, my mom answered, laughing.
Baffled, my sisters and I couldn’t believe our ears. Could it really be possible that all our suffering was over our parent’s lack of communication?
Hello. Mom meet dad, dad meet mom.
“Why didn’t you say something?”, I asked my dad. “We all would’ve been spared”.
At this point the whole table erupted in laughter; a seachange had occurred and us kids were feeling pretty optimistic about our future.
“So does this mean we don’t have to finish our eggplant? “, we asked. Certain the establishment of this particular dish as a “no go” with my father meant the punishment would at last stop.
“It most certainly does not”, my mom answered. “There are starving children in China who’d give anything to eat what’s on your plate. Finish your dinner.”
Of course, we knew there weren’t children anywhere who’d eat what we had on our plates — starving or not — but it was the last night we’d ever have to, and so like a nest of preadolescent snakes we swallowed whole what was in front of us and began digesting the end of an era.
Upon further reflection
Over the years I’ve had ample time to reflect on the above event and what I’ve come to understand about my parents lack of communication in regards to said eggplant dish is this: Romantic love, at least in part, is about sacrifice. My mom, not liking the eggplant herself (though there is some controversy over this fact), but under the unfortunate misunderstanding that my dad did, served it on a regular basis just to make him happy. And my dad, not wanting to offend my mom, thinking she made it as often as she did because she liked it, said nothing so she could continue to enjoy it guilt free. These are beautiful gestures of love and sacrifice, to be sure, and as I said above, I am forever grateful to the eggplant for allowing me to witness it, but you’ve got to ask yourselves one question; with all this sacrificing going on, how is it possible none of it trickled down to the little ones?
The recipe (in case for some reason you’re thinking; eggplant; a deep fryer; maple syrup — yeah, that’s my kind of meal)
Eggplant (as many as you feel comfortable eating)
Heat oil to deep frying temperature in appropriate sized pan. Slice eggplant into half-inch thick rounds. Mix milk, eggs, Bisquick into batter like consistency. Dip eggplant in batter and coat thoroughly. Deep fry eggplant until golden brown. Serve with pad of butter and grotesque dousing of maple syrup. Enjoy with loved ones regularly.