Tomatoes and eggplant...
Tomatoes and eggplant grow together like love and marriage
Tomatoes and eggplant are two of the most generous and dependable crops in a summer vegetable garden – and without much effort you could produce colours, flavours and shapes rarely found on supermarket shelves.
“The scent of a freshly picked tomato is one of the most evocative on earth, laden with sunshine and summer, the generosity of the soil and the promise of delicious pleasure,” writes Marita van der Vyfer in her book Summer Food in Provence.
The eggplant receives just as much lyrical attention from food writer Nigel Slater in Tender:A Cook and his Vegetable Patch: “The aubergine seduces. No other vegetable can offer flesh so soft, silken and tender. I fell in love at first taste.”
Although the tomato originally came from South America and the eggplant from the East, both belong to the Solanum genus. And, just like family members who don’t see each other often, they’re crazy about each other. The sweet-sour flavour of tomatoes embraces the silky soft texture of eggplant, and then they dance in time together in everything from a South African chutney to a French ratatouille and a Greek moussaka.
Yet, until as recently as the 19th century, both partners in this happy twosome were regarded as something best avoided. Possibly because of its connection to the nightshade family, the eggplant was known as the “mad apple” and, apart from the fact that the sharp smell of tomato leaves and stems caused people to give the plant a wide berth, a French botanist also gave it a Latin name that translates as “wolf peach”. Both were, however, grown as ornamental garden plants for their attractiveness.
Later, the pomodoro, or “golden apple”, became a mainstay of Italian cuisine, and the French made the pomme d’amour, or “love apple”, the star of just about every dish. Of course, to this day Americans still can’t decide wether they’re using to-may-toes or to-mah-toes in their ketchup.
When you compare the flavour and texture of home-grown tomatoes or eggplant to those bought in the shops, it’s difficult to believe they are the same fruits. And the range of varieties, shapes, colours, flavours and textures is so much wider and healthier when you grow them yourself.