A Brief Rundown of Eggplants & Fermentation

fruit, story

Garden egg, Guinea squash, bitter tomato, aubergine, brinjal, gaji, eggplant- whatever you call it- amidst my comprehensive spread of cookbooks and culinary and world history they offer next to no substance save a single customary eggplant recipe or two and move on. Maguelonne Toussaint- Samat’s History of Food, a usual starting point for many-a food research, with an eggplant on the cover of the second edition, offers nothing about eggplant at all, while the other texts say something silly like “Europeans brought it back from India/ Africa. It was bitter.”

The eggplant lineage that we eat at some point split to what we can roughly call eggplants from China or India and eggplants from Africa. They are related, but not the same. Thailand, Japan, etc adopted the China/ India eggplant and then Europe claimed all of them including some of the African ones (making pre-European contact historical research about them quite difficult to do as that’s where a lot of sources like to begin). Researchers believe eggplants were first domesticated in China/ India but those plant’s wild origins came from Africa, where many eggplants still roam wild.

In addition to their excellent fiber, minerals and antioxidants, eggplants are great sponges for fats and sauces. It’s commonly known around these parts too that many eggplants need salted and some rest time to remove their natural bitterness. I first heard it from fancy cook Deborah Madison who thinks we’re dabbing with paper towels because we aren’t eating them fresh. That does seem true, but it’s also worth thinking about red eggplants from Africa who are always bitter and moreso the longer they stay on the stem. Picking early is a way to temper the bitterness, however one Ethiopian writer when describing eggplants never mentions any process to de-bitter it, instead he waxes about how prized the bitterest ones are- I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Deborah also classifies skin toughness by color which, as a grower of eggplants seemed bunk at first but I’ll agree in regards only to green skinned, which also have a neat apple-like tartness. Picked on the younger side seems to make for a more tender skin all around. The lesson here boiled down is clearly to get your eggplants in season from the farmer’s market, rather than the grocery store, but also maybe to consider embracing some bitter?

One of the earliest known writings on eggplants by a Persian scholar from around the 900’s made a big list of reasons not to consume it because of its harm to your health. He then went on to rattle off a slew of great health benefits it offers after it is prepared for eating. And in the 2000’s there was up-to-date confirmation by a researcher from Vietnam who found that fermenting raw eggplant in a salt brine for 8 days purged the anti-nutrients it contained such as tannin, phytate, oxalate, and steroidal glycoalkaloid. Great news considering that since eggplant has such a high water content its perishabilibity is fast on the horizon, that coupled with how we need to buy them in season too, fermentation coming in handy again!

Last year we got really into this pickle & marinate technique for our eggplants. It’s very delicious but just be mindful to not over poach your eggos or they’ll turn to mush in the marinade. But apparently there is also an Eastern-European tradition of doing something similar that’s sometimes called Sour Eggplant. Most recipes describe it as eggplants first roasted whole, then cut in half and stuffed with a shredded carrot mixture (garlic, herbs, etc), then either packed in oil or just left at room temperature covered to allow to ferment and get sour. Otherwise preserving eggplant by lacto-fermentation is a breeze, especially because raw they are quite firm and hold shape and texture no problem. There are also recipes around for things like fermented baba ganoush. While I have made it before I can’t honestly say it was on purpose (though the popular technique is to ferment the eggplant and use that instead of roasted eggplant rather than just forgetting baba on the counter).

Making a Jam & Jelly Tradition

fruit, sugar

The first jelly I ever made was out of the wild foraging legend Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It was made from elderberry and sumac. And forever after making jelly and jam has been lashed tightly to such wild adventures as sudden stops along country roads and climbing up forgotten hillsides around the city in search of clearings covered in berries.

Fruit and berries, as we know, are among the most fleeting of the fleet, so preserving such limited time special flavors is special to the utmost. Due to their higher sugar content, mashing them up with enough liquid gives us a soda, a brew, and/ or ultimately vinegar. All of those products are expressions of the fruit or berry with the soft or hard kiss of fermentation attached to it. To preserve fruit’s fresher summery personality here comes sugar more.

70 degrees brix is the amount of sugar content honey needs to resist spoilage. A ripe apple alone only has upwards of maybe around 13 brix. By boiling the fruit we can concentrate the sugars, while also, naturally, adding sugar to also bump up the brix.


Jam is the fruit or berry cooked down slowly. To make it simply cook down the fruit (perhaps with a splash of water as necessary to keep it from burning) then add as much or as little sugar as you wish until it is dissolved, you may even add none. The more sugar the better it will be at preserving. 1:1 fruit to sugar is common, but too sweet for me. Gosh, I wanna be able to taste the fruit still, so 1: 1/2 suits me better if I do add some. Adding a slight pinch of salt too really lifts the flavor better than not.


Those familiar with jelly making are likely aware of the distinct difference between jelly and jam and that’s the added ingredient of pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring plant fiber that creates that gelatin “set” character rather than jam’s oozy one. Some ingredients contain enough of their own pectin that no additional pectin needs to be added. Most commonly we’ll head to the grocery stores to get little packets of it in powdered form when we’re attempting to make a jelly with something lacking ample enough pectin to set itself. However with some planning this isn’t absolutely necessary. Taking the fruits naturally high in pectin like underripe apples, rosehips, cranberries, and the rind of grapefruits, oranges, and lemons we can make our own. The first packaged pectin was made from scraps leftover from a large apple juice producer. Here’s the technique:

Chop up fruit scraps like cores, peels, and peices- everything- and place in a pot with enough water until it’s not quite covered. Bring to a boil, then take your time simmering everything until the apple parts are good and mushy. Then let it strain in a suspended cheesecloth overnight. The remaining liquid is your pectin that should work with about ¼ cup per a cup of jelly- though that’s a pretty open-ended estimate.

The downside to adding pectin whether powdered or homemade is that it will take on some of the flavor, which in a storebought sense is sort of tart appley. The upside is that we can make jelly out of anything- kombucha, coffee, wine, flower syrups…


To make jelly, fruits and berries that have their own pectin first need boiled down to mush in order to access it, but regardless this generally goes for whatever you’re working with. Add enough water to cover your fruit and boil and simmer until the flavors are released. Then strain out the solids and the resulting juice can be measured then reboiled with roughly a 1:1 ratio of sugar. Whisk in pectin if needed. If using a storebought packet, follow their instructions. Check the “set” of the jelly by cooling off a small scoop of it on a metal spoon and popping it in the fridge or freezer to see if a film develops. Continue to simmer it until reaching the desired set.

Both jam and jelly can be preserved in jars passed through a hot water bath or just popped into the fridge. If a little mold pops up on the surface it’s usually no big deal to just scrape it off.