PLUMP, TENDER EGGPLANT. FRESH, CRISP cucumbers. Juicy, sweet corn. How drab summertime would be without all of this wonderful produce. Picnics would suffer and backyard gatherings would falter without some inspiration from these vegetable fruits.
They all join the list of foods—such as tomatoes, peas, chilies, and squash—that have had a confusing time being defined as either a vegetable or a fruit. Botanists raise their fists in unison declaring them fruits, yet due to their popular use in savory dishes, those in the culinary world have insisted they are vegetables. The argument was even brought before the Supreme Court in 1893 to determine the correct answer! In the end, classification should matter little; what is of consequence is the delight these wonderful plants provide.
Corn is the one member of this family that is nearly universally embraced. Put it on the table and you’ll almost never hear, “Oh, I don’t like corn.” Even with its prevalence in our baskets and gardens, the taste of fresh summer corn never grows tiring. Whenever you bite into an ear of corn, you’re treated to sweet little explosions of flavor from every kernel. Even the smell is intoxicating when you’re husking fresh corn cobs.
The elongated ovals of eggplants have always had a spot in our garden. Beginning with the classic Black Beauties, we gradually started to explore other varieties. Long, slender Japanese eggplants and the beautifully gradiated Rosa Biancas have thrived in our garden beds, delighting us with their delicate flavors.
With many of the smaller, more tender eggplants, there is no need to salt them before cooking, and the seeds are small and unobtrusive. Their texture is creamy, and when grilled or seared they provide a beautiful contrast on the palate between their thin, crisped skins and their delicate flesh. They readily pick up hints of smoke from the barbecue and marry beautifully with accompanying ingredients.
Cucumbers tend to elicit love–hate relationships, and the occasional tough, seedy, mushy-centered cucumber does little to help win the love. A fresh, crisp cucumber is glorious, however; it can inspire cravings and become the hero of a salad. The smaller varieties, often labeled as Persian or Japanese cucumbers, are incredible. They have such a clean flavor and amazing crunch, in addition to being seedless (or parthenocarpic, meaning “having virgin fruit”). Although we struggle with growing them, they are a staple in our household; the struggle just makes us appreciate them all the more when we buy them from favorite farmers and markets.
Whether on grill tops or in dips and salads, these vegetable fruits leave us happy, satisfied, and basking in the glory of summer. They will always find a home in our picnics and on our feast tables.
© 2013 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.