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Eggplant

Eggplant is a cold-sensitive vegetable that requires a long warm season for best yields. The culture of eggplant is similar to that of bell pepper, with transplants being set in the garden after all danger of frost is past. Eggplants are slightly larger plants than peppers and are spaced slightly farther apart. Eggplant requires careful attention for a good harvest. Small-fruited, exotic-colored and ornamental varieties can be grown in containers and used for decorations.

Questions & Answers

Q. I planted my eggplants early, but they did not grow very well.

A. They probably were planted while the soil was too cold. It is better to hold the plants (but keep them growing) until the soil warms. If necessary, repot into larger containers to maintain vigor. Mulching with black plastic film can help warm the soil,, especially in northern areas. Floating row covers can help with cool, early seasons as well as bar harmful insects from succulent young plants.

Harvesting

Harvest the fruits when they are 6 to 8 inches long and still glossy. Use a knife or pruning shears rather than breaking or twisting the stems. Many eggplant varieties have small prickly thorns on the stem and calyx, so exercise caution or wear gloves when harvesting. Leave the large (usually green) calyx attached to the fruit.

When the fruits become dull or brown, they are too mature for culinary use and should be cut off and discarded. Overmature fruits are spongy and seedy and may be bitter. Even properly harvested fruits do not store well and should be eaten soon after they are harvested. Large, vigorous plants can yield as many as four to six fruits at the peak of the season.

Recommended Varieties

Large Oval Fruit

Dusky (60 days to harvest, good size, early production)

Epic (64 days, tear-drop shaped)

Black Bell (68 days, round to oval, productive)

Black Magic (72 days)

Classic (76 days, elongated oval, high quality)

Black Beauty (OP-80 days)

Burpee Hybrid (80 days)

Ghostbuster (80 days; white, slightly sweeter than purple types; 6 to 7 inch oval).

Elongated Fruit

Ichiban (70 days)

Slim Jim (OP-70 days; lavender, turning purple when peanut-sized; good in pots)

Little Fingers (OP-68 days; 6 to 8 inch, long, slim fruit in clusters).

Ornamental Fruit

Easter Egg (52 days; small white, egg-sized, shaped, turning yellow at maturity; edible ornamental)

When to Plant

Eggplant is best started from transplants. Select plants in cell packs or individual containers. It is important to get the plants off to a proper start. Do not plant too early. Transplant after the soil has warmed and the danger of frost has passed. Eggplants are more susceptible than tomato plants to injury from low temperatures and do not grow until temperatures warm.

Spacing & Depth

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row, or even closer for small fruited types. Three to six plants are usually sufficient for most families unless eggplant is a favorite vegetable, eaten often. Allow 30 to 36 inches between rows or space plants 24 inches apart in all directions in raised beds.

Care

Use starter fertilizer for transplanting. Side-dress nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown and again immediately after harvest of the first fruits. Given sufficient moisture and fertility, eggplant thrives in the heat of summer. The plants tolerate dry weather after they are well established but should be irrigated during extended dry periods for continued peak production.

Common Problems

Verticillium wilt causes yellowing, wilting and death of the plants.

Flea beetles cause tiny holes in the leaves. Damage can be severe, especially on young plants, if unchecked. These beetles can be controlled by applying an insecticide.

Selection & Storage

Harvest eggplants when they are young. Size is not always an indication of maturity. To test, hold the eggplant in your palm and gently press it with your thumb. If the flesh presses in but bounces back, it is ready for harvesting. If the flesh is hard and does not give, the eggplant is immature and too young to harvest. If the thumb indentation remains, the eggplant to over mature and may be completely brown inside and bitter with large tough seeds.

There is long-standing controversy about male and female eggplants, which is an inaccurate approach considering the fact that fruits are the product of sex and do not have it. However, it is folk wisdom worth some attention. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant.

Eggplants bruise easily so harvest gently. Always cut the eggplant with the cap and some of the stem attached. Eggplants do not like cool temperatures so they do not store well. Harvest and use them immediately for best flavor. If you must store them, wrap them in plastic or use plastics and store for 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator. Be careful as it will soon develop soft brown spots and become bitter. Use them while the stem and cap are still greenish and rather fresh-looking.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Eggplants have a small amount of nutrients. They are naturally low in calories and unpeeled, they provide some fiber. There is also some folate and potassium.

Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked, cubed )

Calories 27.7
Protein .82 gram
Carbohydrates 6.57 grams
Dietary Fiber 2.48 grams
Phosphorus 21.78 mg
Potassium 245.52 mg
Folate 14.26 mcg

Preparation & Serving

Cooked eggplant soaks up a lot of oil. As the air rushes out of the cells oil rushes in to take it place. Many cooks insist on salting and pressing (or just draining) the air and water out before cooking. Getting rid of the air means it will absorb less oil during cooking. Salting also reduces the water content which reduces the amount of water leeched out into the dish. If you salt prior to cooking, rinse and pat dry to prevent excessive salt in the end product. Adjust the seasoning in the recipe to compensate for the salt remaining on the eggplant.

Then there is the issue of whether or not to peel the eggplant. Peeling should depend on how the eggplant is used in the recipe. If you never peel, selection becomes extremely important. Young tender eggplant is a must as older tough skin takes longer to cook and by then the flesh is overcooked.

Eggplant can be baked, grilled, steamed, or sauteed. It is versatile and works well with tomatoes, onions, garlic and cheese. The only way eggplant is unacceptable is raw.

Home Preservation

Eggplant is not suitable for drying or canning. Freezing is the best method for home preservation.

To Freeze: Harvest before seeds become mature and when color is uniformly dark.

  1. Wash, peel if desired, and slice 1/3-inch thick. Prepare quickly, enough eggplant for one blanching at a time.
  2. Water blanch, covered for 4 minutes in one gallon boiling water containing 1/2 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled).
  3. Cool, drain and package, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Seal in zip closure freezer bags and seal and freeze.
  4. For frying -- Pack the drained slices with a freezer wrap between slices. Seal and freeze.

Recipes

Herbed Baby Eggplant

This recipe is good chilled as a summer appetizer or side dish.

3 pounds small Oriental-type eggplants (4-6 ounces)
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sherry or red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into shreds

  1. Wash eggplant, remove caps and cut into quarters or cut in half. Sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels.

  2. Spread pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet, cut sides up.

  3. Mix garlic and oil, and drizzle over eggplants. Bake 30 minutes until the eggplants are brown and tender. Cool slightly.

  4. Rinse basil leaves. Stack leaves and roll into a scroll. Cut across into thin shreds. Set aside.

  5. Place the eggplants in a large bowl and drizzle with vinegar, add basil shreds and toss. Serves 4 to 6.