Unless you’re big into baba ghanoush or eggplant parmesan, you may not be aware that eggplants are nearly impossible to find these days and have been for the past several weeks.
I first noticed last month when I happened upon a couple of produce shelves at my local supermarket that were completely and starkly empty.
The signs on them said the shelves ordinarily contained eggplant and zucchini but the space looked like something out of the former Soviet Union.
I asked a supermarket employee about it and was told that “some lady who owns a restaurant” had come in and bought every last specimen of each article. And the new order hadn’t arrived yet.
Bad timing on my part, I supposed.
But during my most recent trip to the market, I scoured the place and found neither hide nor hair, so to speak, of eggplant. Zucchinis were there, but not a trace of the big, purple veggie. Not even the smaller, skinnier type.
Not only that, but no space had been left for it – empty or otherwise.
It was as though the whole idea of eggplant had been erased from the planet.
It was eerie.
So, I asked again.
This time the worker left to find an expert and returned to tell me that there just aren’t any eggplants in the whole country and he had no idea why.
I was a little stunned.
What could this mean? Is it a sign of the Apocalypse – first the eggplant then the world, or something?
I also asked, though I’d never heard of it myself, if he knew if the thing can be found in some other form – like canned, jarred or frozen.
So, I went home and looked it up and sure enough, we do seem to be in the middle of The Great American Eggplant Shortage of 2011, according to several websites.
“A historic trio of severe winter freezes in Florida, northern Mexico and Southern California has cut eggplant supplies across the country,” one website said. And, “what survived is often selling for triple the usual price.”
One site says that besides eggplants, the early February freeze impacted several crops, “including tomatoes, green peppers, zucchini and yellow squash,” though the zucchini drought seems to already have recovered, at least at my market.
It was evidently the first freeze since 1957 in key eggplant-growing regions in Mexico and it came two months after a similar freeze “wreaked havoc on Florida crops, including eggplant” and some other veggies, one site says.
“But eggplant is especially tender, say suppliers, and it’s not planted as widely. It’s also not easily replaced in certain ethnic dishes,” one site notes, which is precisely my problem. I needed it to make a wonderful Moroccan Israeli dish, quite popular around my house, which roughly translated, means “cooked salad.”
I did find an abundant, actually overflowing, cornucopia of the thinner, Chinese eggplants at a local Filipino market here called Seafood City – so, clearly, this is where the world’s supply of this item is being kept in case you’re wondering.
But otherwise, if you find yourself wandering around the produce section peering under the bok choy or some other large leafy plant in search of where they’ve hidden the eggplant – you are wasting your time.
We’re growing our own this year.
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