2019: U… A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories: Uncle Frankie’s Pickled Eggplant
I’m back for “Year 4” of the A to Z… April Challenge!
My first year of this challenge had me racking my brain for a writing topic… especially as I didn’t quite understand the process. But finally I came up with 2016: Southern Foods and Memories. They said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew. 2017: Conversations with Mama was a somewhat easy one for me as I’d journaled our conversations for years so I researched some of my favorite topics to write on. 2018: All About Nancy Drew has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another to equal it. It literally had me researching every day for over six months… researching, reading and perfecting every post. I was totally consumed with Nancy Drew for months… and still am! I didn’t want to “not” participate this year, but I was drawing a blank. Finally, mid February, I came up with writing on my husband’s Italian family foods and memories. I did my Southern foods the first year, so it was time to finally give his family their due! I’m also participating in the yearly 52 Ancestors 52 Stories this year… I am really feeling over-extended this month. April is a tough month for me, as we usually are traveling to my mother’s and my son in Florida… but somehow I’ll manage!
I think I can safely say that before marrying into an Italian family, I had never eaten any of the foods I’m blogging on this month… such an underprivileged child I was! Growing up in the South where we ate fried chicken, okra, black-eyed peas, butter beans, mashed potatoes, creamed style corn and southern biscuits! Oh My…!
Uncle Frankie’s Pickled Eggplant
Hubby and I just happened to stop at Uncle Frankie’s one Saturday afternoon… arriving to find the garage door open and him busy making his mothers famous pickled eggplant. I documented my finding that day… asking countless questions… as I wanted to leave with a somewhat semblance of a recipe!
In Uncle Frankie’s own words…. “My mother made this every year… it was a ritual at our house and always served at the table. She often used my father’s old wine press to squeeze the eggplant dry, but before using that, she only used her hands; the press made the process much faster, especially when making a large batch. When I was old enough, I became the one who helped mother make it every year… I loved helping! Later, when it became too much for her, I took over the job over of preparing it every year… while she supervised! It tasted “just like Mother’s” because I made it so often while she watched… making sure I was doing it right.”
Anytime you’re gifted a homemade bottle of pickled eggplant… it’s a treasure. I took home a bottle that day… and I treasured it… making it last!
Aunt Mary also made it, but in quite a different fashion… but using the same ingredients. Like many things Aunt Mary made… she learned to make in smaller quantities, and she often made only one jar or two at a time… and all by hand, no wine press… squeezing the eggplant dry, wrapped in cheesecloth.
I didn’t note in my recipe, but I believe he skinned the eggplant before cutting in small long strips. I don’t leave the skin on when I slice to fry, as I think the skin is bitter, but many do leave it on. I’m also not sure on the ratio of the red hot peppers vs the green peppers, but it all depends on your taste. If you like foods hot… then add as much as you like. I probably would add more than 2 green peppers which I had in recipe. This is a type of food prepared where there really isn’t a specific amount of ingredients needed… make it to your liking.
It’s quite a process to make and all hands on deck are needed… as you can see from the photos. We recently inherited Uncle Frankie’s wine press… which was in dire need of repair.
Uncle Frankie would be proud of nephew’s restoration!
It was on an early September morning in 2002 when I first went about preserving this recipe for the family cookbook I was working on at the time. Uncle Frankie and his friend, “Frank the plumber,” had been busy since about 8 that morning. We had arrived around 11:30 a.m. and found him hard at work peeling the garlic, while “Frank the plumber” was chopping peppers…. and cousin Johnny Jr. was squeezing the eggplant dry with the wine press I remember Johnny was laughing as he said, “I’m just the rookie here, so I get the low man job.“
As I sat watching, Uncle Frankie began telling me the recipe… all from memory… and how he puts it together. It had always been an un-written recipe, but now I was recording it through pictures and creating that paper recipe… finally!
As I sat there smelling it… I quickly sneaked a taste before the last bit went into the jars… boy was it good! I managed to cut the recipe down to make a smaller amount of about a dozen jars from what he was making. If you want an even less amount… cut it down as Aunt Mary says… using only one eggplant. She told me her secret ingredient is “lemon juice”… which she squeezes over the eggplant strips to keep them from turning brown.
Grandma Minnie celebrating her 83rd birthday… daughter Cecelia (my mother in law), son Johnny Cambino, son Frankie Cambino.
Sadly, our family lost Uncle Frankie on May 28th, 2016. We all surely miss this guy… he was one of a kind… with always a story and joke to entertain you! He was called “Gabby” in the Army… you can imagine why!
Thank You for your service Uncle Frank!
Continue reading more of the A to Z… Cooking Famiglia Italian Foods and Memories
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