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The eggplant has a mysterious past.

The Mad Apple

This week I’ve got a garden riddle for you to solve. Can you tell me the name of a plant in the nightshade family that is often grown in vegetable gardens, that produces large purple fruit, is actually by botanical definition a berry but was cultivated in ancient India from the thorn apple?

If you need a hint this “vegetable” is part of the plant species Solanaceae and is known by its scientific name Solanum melongena. In parts of Asia and Africa this unique looking fruit it is known as the brinjal. In the UK and parts of Europe it is called the aubergine.

If you are thinking of the eggplant, then you are correct.

Down through the historical record the eggplant has a rather mysterious past. Its cultivation was first noted in China but thought to originate in India from the Solanum incanum also known as the thorn apple , bitter apple, or bitter tomato. Interestingly, some claim that Solanum incanum is the “hedge of thorns” mentioned in the Biblical books of Proverbs and Hosea.

By the 15th or 16th century the eggplant had spread to southern Europe, especially Germany where it was quite enthusiastically cultivated and new varieties developed. As its cultivation spread, so did its rather mysterious aura. It is claimed, that some Europeans considered the eggplant an aphrodisiac and called it the “apple of love”. On the other side of the spectrum it was viewed by some superstitiously and thought to induce madness, hence it was given the name the “mad apple”.

I can’t help but think that this apple of love or madness was once the food for some aspiring philosopher. My musings aside, it was the Spanish explorers who brought the mad apple to the shores of the New World where it did not receive much notice until respected horticulturalist and President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson brought it wide spread recognition. Speaking of philosophers, Jefferson was not just the President of the United States but on March 3, 1797 was installed as President of the American Philosophical Society (the following day he became the Vice President of the United States.) Jefferson served as president of the APS for the next 18 years.

For those wondering, no, the eggplant does not have any aphrodisiac properties that I could find nor does it produce any sort of madness. Nutritionally though the eggplant has lots of fiber, so it’s good for digestion. Many studies have shown that a sufficient intake of dietary fiber is also important for appetite control and thus contributes to weight control. Eggplant is not an exceptional source of minerals, but it does contain some Calcium, Iron, Copper, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Potassium. On the vitamin side of the nutritional scale eggplant is rich in folic acid, contains some vitamin K and vitamin C. Because of its texture and mild flavor eggplant makes a great substitute for meat in casseroles and other culinary delights.

Interestingly, a 2011 study reported in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine found that eggplant peel contained the extract Solasodine rhamnosyl glycoside which when used topically was an effective treatment for non-melanoma skin cancers.

This week at the Sierra Vista Farmers Market you’ll find the mysterious, vegetable – fruit — I mean berry called the eggplant. We have several types of eggplant at the market including the standard large purple and long slender Japanese. If you’ve never tried an eggplant before and not sure what to do with it, check out this week’s market newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com and I’ll have a link for 11 delicious eggplant recipes for you to try.

This Week at the Market

It’s artisan Thursday again this week so we’ve invited additional unique local artisans to share with you their amazing handmade creations. Artisan Thursday always brings additional color, energy, and flair to the market so it’s sure to be a fun day. The first Thursday of the month is also our $100 farmers market Like and Comment Facebook giveaway so be sure to look for the contest entry announcement on our Facebook page or this week’s newsletter.

Hope to see you all at the market this week!

Submitted by William Struse

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