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Eggplant, eggplant, eggplant

Judges chow down to choose best Loomis Eggplant Festival recipes
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Imagine a 13-course meal – all eggplant. For Loomis residents Tom Millward, Ellie Ramsey, Sue Johnston and Lisa Peters – judges all at for the Loomis Eggplant Festival’s Cooking Contest on Saturday – their date with the humble eggplant turned into a mostly pleasant, sometimes exciting, once-in-a-while perplexing gourmet excursion. Imagine a menu that starts with eggplant salsa, an eggplant tapas spread and eggplant tacos. “We’re off to a good start,” said former town mayor Millward, who admitted his wife is more of an eggplant lover than he is. “This is good.” A veteran of last year’s Cooking Contest judging, Millward said that he was surprised at what people could do with eggplant and many times couldn’t even tell there was eggplant in a dish. Eggplant soup followed – boldly served in shooter glasses with a hint of nutmeg. Carrot bits added a splash of color to the creamy yellow hue of the steaming concoction. Another taco – this one with asparagus, thyme, bell peppers and cream cheese wrapped in a spinach tortilla was served – with chunks of the now-ubiquitous eggplant. From a fancy tureen came a somewhat mysterious polenta with eggplant topping. A foam clamshell revealed a mound of soft eggplanty goodness that one judge speculated also included applesauce. Next came panini with eggplant. Then a big scoopful of the classic eggplant parmigiana. With barely room to mark the scores down, desserts were soon before the panel of judges. One dish replicated a New Orleans banana mixture – a la eggplant. Another came in the form of an eggplant-laced pie. Eggplant chocolate cake and eggplant cupcakes followed. Finishing the last of the eggplant offerings, Johnston – an admitted eggplant lover – said that even she found the going a little rough at times. “There were a couple I didn’t like at all,” Johnston said. “One was like mush.” For Millward, the eggplant offerings were good up to the last mooshy bite. “All the desserts were delicious,” he said. “It was really hard to decide. Everything was really good.” Winners and their categories were Lincoln’s Linda Bunker (appetizer, eggplant ‘shooters’), Don Tramel of Loomis (side dish, eggplant taco), Debbie Kulig of Lincoln (eggplant panini, main dish) and Roger T. Anderson of San Jose (eggplant New Orleans banana faux-ster). Recipes will be available in next year’s edition of the Loomis Chamber of Commerce Eggplant Cookbook. The one-day festival, which honors everything eggplant, drew thousands to Loomis. It provided a variety of eggplant foods to sample – even an eggplant beer – as well as entertainment and vendors. In a world where the purple plant is either loved or not-so-loved, not everyone was trying the eggplant, though. Lincoln’s Shirley Berry said she and her husband were sharing a pepper steak sandwich – something they’ve made a tradition of at events over the past 40 years. “I would have tried an eggplant burger,” she said. “I’m very impressed with the event. It’s bigger than I thought it would be.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.