Seasonal Flavors: Eggplant Souffle

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We bought a house in suburban Washington, D.C., in the early seventies. It was the house of my twenty-year-old self’s dreams: a stately colonial, four bedrooms, shady cul-de-sac. The kitchen was way too small, as kitchens in those 1940-era houses tended to be, but you can’t have everything.

This was the house where I answered the door one day and a salesman asked, ‘Is your mother home?’ and I replied, “I am the mother.” Yes, I was quite young when we bought that house.

The back yard was full of azaleas but far too shady for vegetables, so I grew my eggplants in the front yard. That probably gave our elderly, sophisticated neighbors pause (and I don’t think they ever learned of the chickens that we secretly kept in the garage), but the eggplant is a comely plant both in flower and in fruit so they didn’t complain.

And there in Maryland, the eggplants grew splendidly because there were no flea beetles. Here in Virginia, without diligence (or pesticides which I refuse to use) eggplant leaves become lacey with the gnawing of the flea beetles. Southern Exposure Seed Company advises potting the plants and putting them three feet above ground. That’s what I’ve done this year and last and it works moderately well. Some friends grow eggplant under row covers. I’ll try that sometime.

Our next-door neighbor in that suburban paradise was an elderly widow named Mrs. Moore, whose friends called her “Wee Moore” due to her slight stature. She liked me and I her. Instead of complaining about my eggplants, she gave me a recipe for a soufflé. My memory is foggy on this, but I think she said she got it from her cook: Duncan Hines. I swear she told me that Duncan Hines was her cook. Up until then I thought he was merely the maker of commercial cake mixes. There was no Internet at the time, so I simply believed her.

I’ve done a little digging and learned that according to Wikipedia, my recollection is impossible and that most probably, Mrs. Moore got the recipe from her cook who used Duncan Hines’ popular 1935 cookbook, Adventures in Good Eating.

This is not a classic soufflé. I just bake it in a casserole dish, but it is tasty and if, like me, you love eggplant, you will love this. I am transcribing it exactly as I have it from a forty-year-old piece of notebook paper, written in Wee Moore’s hand, with a few annotations by me.

Eggplant Soufflé

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 cup grated, American cheese  [ I use cheddar.]
  • 1 cup toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 T grated onion
  • 1 T catsup
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash, peel and cube the eggplant.  Cook until tender in a small amount of boiling, salted water.  Drain and mash.

Make a cream sauce with butter, flour and milk [Translation—melt butter in a saucepan, add flour and cook over low heat for two minutes.  Gradually add the milk stirring constantly.  Cook gently until the sauce thickens.]

When thickened and smooth, add the cheese and stir until melted.  Add the eggplant, crumbs, onion, catsup and beaten egg yolks.  Season with salt and pepper. [I use ¾ tsp of salt and ½ tsp pepper.] Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Pour into casserole dish and bake for an hour at 350°F.

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