The aubergine is a “decidedly modest” ingredient, despite its “slick, glossy sheen and generously abundant curves”, says Tom Parker Bowles in Country Life. The fruit has a “gentle, subtle appeal”, offering “luscious succour to flavours more strident than its own”. It’s popular in cuisines around the world, appearing in Italy’s melanzane alla parmigiana and Japan’s nasu dengaku, and when cooked it transforms “from raw and stolid to soft and silken”.
What’s more, they’re not all deep purple – some are long and yellow, while others are small white ovals, hence the alternative name eggplant. Originally bitter and from India, they came to Spain and Sicily via the Moors and these days most are “as mild as a Dorking accountant”. My own love affair with the aubergine is “relatively recent”, since I was previously “traumatised by prep-school moussaka”. However, my passion is only growing stronger. As the French chef Roger Vergé said: “the aubergine is a vegetable you’d want to caress with your eyes and fingers”. I quite agree.
The perfect cup of tea
Scientists in Switzerland think they have cracked the code for making the perfect cup of tea – use filtered water and a dash of lemon. But would George Orwell have approved? He was maniacal about tea, says the Telegraph, so much so that in 1946 he wrote an 11-step guide, published in the Evening Standard, that was called A Nice Cup of Tea. “Tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country,” said Orwell. “One strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes.”
Pickling through the ages
The art of pickling dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, says Mental Floss, and involves preserving food either in vinegar or salty water. Sailors travelling to the New World in the 15th century relied on pickled food to ward off scurvy. Queen Elizabeth I was a fan, as was William Shakespeare, who coined the expression to be “in a pickle” in The Tempest. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Ashkenazi Jews emigrating to New York took their pickling techniques with them. The kosher pickle became a staple of New York life and is made with cucumbers fermented in salt brine flavoured with garlic, dill and spices.