The last eggplant parm

28 Apr

Looks promising enough, am I right?

Actually, I am wrong.

This is what I was aiming for. It is Aunt Anna’s light-as-air eggplant parmigiana, and it is perfect. Always.

“I don’t know how she does it” is a comment that I have heard uttered often and by many through the years. A close Associate of mine, one who abhors any and all parmigiana, no matter how finely prepared, craves my aunt’s eggplant.

For the past few Christmases Anna has been kind enough to freeze a tray of her eggplant parm, a gift meant to be transported from her apartment in Queens to my home here in Maine. I have grown accustomed to receiving this gift and was sorely disappointed when this past Christmas, due to the pandemic, I could not attend our family’s holiday meal.

Recently I tried to imitate my aunt’s eggplant in my own kitchen. You see, a lovely 98-year-old woman named Virginia, my wife’s mother in fact, had been ailing. After a while she lost almost all interest in food.

Her daughter had spent an entire weekend preparing things that might stimulate an appetite. There were short ribs and lamb shanks, pilafs and frittatas, chowders and creamed spinach, her favorite, and more. My principal job was to lend moral support and then pack single-serving meals into easy-to-handle containers for freezing and microwaving.

As is often the case, however, I was also tasked with introducing a bit of levity into an otherwise unfortunate time. And cooking up a batch of Anna’s eggplant parm felt like it might do the trick.

Ginny had been introduced to my aunt’s eggplant one Christmas, and in the most laughable way. The complete story can be found here but the short version is this: My mother-in-law’s planned holiday meal hadn’t been terribly well planned at all. When it became evident that our Christmas Day dinner was nowhere to be had, it was Anna’s eggplant, still frozen in the trunk of my car, that saved the day.

Ginny laughed and laughed at how preposterous it was to retrieve a holiday dinner out of the trunk of a car, and not a Christmas Day went by after that where she didn’t reminisce about the eggplant that had saved an earlier one.

Days after we’d stocked her freezer with food, I received a text from Ginny. (Yes, at 98, the woman was undaunted by technology.)

“The eggplant was delicious. You give your aunt some competition. Just finished a serving and my mouth is still watering. Good job!”

I had tasted my eggplant before gifting it to my mother-in-law and I assure you that my dear aunt has absolutely nothing to worry about. Trust me on this.

Still, Ginny had eaten the stuff, and that was all that really mattered.

“Nice of you to say,” I texted back. “But next year you’ll get the REAL thing from Anna, I hope.”

A few weeks later my wife’s mother passed, in the very town where she and her husband Dave had courted as young M.I.T. students. Soon her daughter and I will scatter Ginny’s ashes nearby, in the same spot as Dave’s.

I am planning to ask Anna if she wouldn’t mind providing us with a farewell meal.

10 Responses to “The last eggplant parm”

  1. Lori Bayard April 28, 2021 at 2:24 pm #

    I am sorry for your loss. Ginny definitely knows good food when she has it. Your meatball recipe was amazing. I can’t wait to try the eggplant. I love your blog. Thank you for sharing you delicious recipes and your stories. My condolences to you and your family.

  2. Nancy April 28, 2021 at 2:25 pm #

    A very touching story. Thank you for sharing. We love Eggplant Parmesan as well, so we can relate to the excellent of a light, tasty version.

  3. Anne Kurek April 28, 2021 at 3:04 pm #

    Such a sweet post. So very sorry for the loss of your dear mother in law. I will try this recipe but you have to be less hard on yourself. I’m sure it was just as delicious as Anna’s.

  4. Freddo April 28, 2021 at 3:21 pm #

    Sweet tribute. Lovingly written, consumed with zest. Thanks.

  5. Kathy April 28, 2021 at 8:12 pm #

    Mr. Meatball—- So sorry for your family’s loss. Appreciate you sharing your family’s recipes, but more importantly, the love you share for your family members.

  6. Joan April 28, 2021 at 9:17 pm #

    This made me cry. Thank you for the tribute.

    • Claudia April 29, 2021 at 11:34 am #

      What a wonderful story for the end of life. We’re sorry for Joan’s loss.

      • Joan April 29, 2021 at 12:01 pm #

        Thank you, Claudia. Best to you both!

  7. Don May 10, 2021 at 1:23 am #

    A very touching story. Thank you for sharing. My condolences to you and your family.

  8. Dr. Dick October 14, 2021 at 9:29 pm #

    Beautiful story, Ralphie.

    Joan, I am so sorry to learn about your mom. I remember your parents vividly.

    Just grateful the two of you are out there still creating beauty in the world one pasta dish at a time.

    I love you two.

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