Today, the eggplant is enjoying amazing popularity, thanks to the creation of new varieties and more adventurous cooks who are discovering exciting ways to prepare them, as well as revivifying classic dishes like eggplant parmesan and baba ghanoush. If you want to venture beyond lettuce, tomatoes, beans and peppers, the eggplant is your perfect first "exotic vegetable".
Fact: Eggplants are in the nightshade family and are related to tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco.
The eggplant originated in India, and has been cultivated throughout the Middle East and Asia, which is why there are so many shapes and colors beyond the traditional purple, oval-shaped eggplant. Their colors range from white to almost black and some are solid colored while others have stripes. The plant got its unique name from the popular, traditional type that was raised in Europe in the 18th century because they looked like a hen's egg. In the United Kingdom, eggplants are referred to by the French word "aubergine".
How to plant:
Eggplants are semi-tropical to tropical, therefore they love the heat and want to be planted when it is warm out and all the dangers of frost have past. They can grow to be eight to twelve inches long depending on the variety, but the bushy plants do not usually grow more than two to three feet tall, so space them about 18 to 24 inches apart. Eggplants can grow to be heavy, so use tomato cages or stakes to keep them from bending and breaking.
Water eggplants regularly and thoroughly to get them started. Once they are established, water thoroughly but infrequently, because their roots do not like to remain wet. Eggplants can take a bit of drought, but do not let them wilt because that stresses the plants, which makes them more susceptible to insect damage and diseases. Feed them regularly along with your other vegetables with your choice of standard or organic plant food.
If you find tiny holes in your leaves they were most likely caused by flea beetles, which can be controlled naturally with beneficial nematodes (microscopic worms). Cover your younger eggplants with spun bonded plant fabric to help keep insects away; however, mature, healthy plants can usually withstand damage.
As with most vegetables, bigger is not usually better, so harvest eggplants when they reach a medium size and their skin is still shiny, smaller plants tend to be less bitter. Watch out for thorns, which you will find on some varieties and cut the stems with a knife or scissors. You can keep eggplants for about a week in your refrigerator.
- Burpee Home Gardens