Mad Apples

At the farmers market last Friday I asked the farmer about the difference between the three varieties of eggplant that he was selling. He answered that he didn't know -- he grew them but did not eat them. I must have looked incredulous as he then proceeded to name all the vegetables that he sold and did eat. I half listened to this rather long list as I gathered a large bag of only eggplants.


For whatever reason, this is my favorite vegetable (yes, it is a fruit) of the summer. Probably having a grill has something to do with it. In fact, I have not once cooked eggplant in the apartment all year.

Here is another story about eggplant indifference. While I was living in Paris I went to a birthday party, I arrived 30 minutes late, which was a mistake as the other guests only began to arrive two hours later. At some point, someone explained (probably in English, as I doubt my linguistic capabilities could ever have comprehended this subtlety) that the only good way to eat eggplant was eggplant caviar. Yes, this is a delicious way to eat eggplant, but surely there are other options!

Take for instance my new favorite sandwich, the sabich sandwich. The ingredient list is a bit too long for me these days, but I know where to buy one, and it's terrific. Plus there is hot sauce, which is a topic for another post.

Perhaps really the best way to eat eggplant is to grill a slew of it on a Sunday night and enjoy throughout the week. Eggplant and lemon, yogurt, tahini sauce? Yes. Eggplant and pesto pizza? Definitely. Eggplant eaten straight from the fridge as you contemplate breakfast? To be honest, that is how most of it will be consumed.

At some point many of us wonder why eggplants are named after eggs. Certainly they do not look like eggs (side note, why does the eggplant emoji stand for male genitalia? the purple bulbous shape would suggest some sort of medical emergency). Wikipedia explains, and I didn't bother to confirm, that the name was bestowed upon the kind of eggplants that do look like eggs. 

The etymology gets even more interesting. Eggplants are also called mad apples (mostly by people who are now dead, but mad apples should experience a revival!). There seem to be two intertwined reasons. First, eggplants belong to the nightshade family and were rumored to be poisonous. Secondly, in Italian eggplant is melanzane, which somehow became interpreted by non-native speakers as mela (apple) insana. (insane). 


Wordplay will always remind me of Charles Dodgson and his portmanteaus. Indeed, if mealnzane was actually originally intended to be about mad apples, it would be a classic portmanteau word. As Humpty Dumpty helpfully explained,

‘Well, “slithy“ means “lithe and slimy.” “Lithe” is the same as “active.” You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

Further, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) seemed rather fond of madness. 

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” 

So while eggplant, that is, aubergines, might not appear as the most British of foods. They really are the thing to serve to Professor Dodgson. 

As we ate some afternoon aubergine, Dodgson himself agreed this logic was perfectly syllogistic.

Charles Dodgson appreciates madness.
Eggplants are mad apples.
Therefore Dodgson appreciates eggplants.

For more like this, I recommend the reader to his repertoire. While it might not make for very penetrable conversation, a few syllogisms on the side can make a mighty fine pairing to any meal.