"You seem obsessed lately with photographing produce," says Eldest. Just one more bit of evidence that her mother is heading into the long decline of senility.
"Yes," I say. "Could you scootch back that way? You're blocking the light."
I am obsessed.
But this is nothing new. I don't think she realizes that I've been buying eggplant for years - not because they looked especially toothsome to me - but because I can't resist their waxy smoothness and their sleek reflective depths.
I'm just more obvious about my ardor these days.
She doesn't realize that those years past when I've left eggplant on the cupboard to gradually shrivel and lose its lustre, it hasn't been merely procrastination. I feel no more sense of waste when I finally toss an etiolated eggplant on the compost pile than I feel about the bouquet of dried-up flowers composting beside them.
Something so beautiful doesn't have to be eaten in order to serve its proper purpose.
Well. . . almost no more sense of waste.
I am the (great-great- . . . grand)daughter of Puritans after all.
In years past, when nigglings of conscience have refused to buy Beauty as Its Own Reward, I have despaired of ever rendering my beautiful eggplants edible. To no avail salting and setting to drain. Adding this. Cooking with that.
Until last year I learned the sure-fire, never-fail method.
Choose an eggplant that has never been refrigerated.
Now I often dispense with the salting and setting to drain because there are no bitter juices to drain away.
Last week I made ratatouille (à la Alice Waters, whose basic recipe in Chez Panisse Vegetables varies hardly at all from the other recipes I've found) ignoring Eldest's, Middlest's and YoungSon's cries, "Eggplant! I hate eggplant!" Knowing they only think they hate it. Because they remember all my failed attempts of years past.
Eggplant with all her friends
"I was wrong. I do like this!"
"I think it's like . . . lasagna!" because I served it with a thick rustic pasta and crumbled feta.
"I'm going to pack some in my lunch for tomorrow, okay?"
Last year about this same time I made eggplant in Italian tomato sauce with mushrooms. Total success.
And today - guess what's bubbling away in the crockpot?
It smells divine and YoungSon and I snacked on the bits of eggplant flesh that stuck to the roasting sheet this morning before I took him to school. "They're like potato chips!"
Of course, every eggplant you buy in the grocery store has been kept in cold storage before being set out to tempt your eye. So it will be bitter.
But right now 'tis the season when eggplants ripen in the last long sun of our warm season.
And what better excuse do you need than that to find and frequent the farmer's market nearest you?