The word, “aubergine” rolled of the tongue of our neighbor much easier than it did mine. I can remember the gorgeous deep purple fruits and the dense feeling of holding them freshly picked. I’d walk home and tell my mom Mrs. Scott had given us another eggplant- then I would try to mimic the way she said “aubergine,” making this vegetable sound mysterious and elegant. Then it would sit, sadly, as no one in my house really knew what to do with it. I just knew that I took Mrs. Scott tomatoes from our garden, and she gave us “aubergines.”
As an adult, though, I adore eggplant- it’s my favorite thing to find at farmers’ markets. The more unique the coloring, the better- from pale white to long skinny violet and striped squat globes, eggplant varieties are extraordinarily unique. Also, I’ve learned how to use them- roasted and pureed in Baba Ghanoush; sliced and grilled with a little EVOO; or thinly sliced and layered with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella and baked to perfection for my own enjoyment as eggplant Parmesan.
Growing eggplant is much easier than I thought it would be. Eggplants make great container plants and do well in raised beds, which get warmer soil earlier in the spring. If starting your plants from seed, it’s a good idea to start seeds several weeks (6 to 9) before the last fast frost. Or, buy already-started plants and place them in the ground after the last frost. Eggplants love warmth and do best in sunny, well-drained spots in the garden, and plants should be mulched around the base to retain moisture and keep roots cool. Most varieties grow into tall, stately plants- making excellent statement pieces as singular planting in pots, or lining the sunny edge of your vegetable garden. It’s a good idea to invest in some type of liquid fertilizer or food, such as Gurney’s Vegetable Food and some cages or supports like the Pepper and Eggplant Support.
Some varieties I have my eye on this season:
Rosa Bianca Eggplant: An Italian heirloom eggplant, I’ve seen the fruit from the Rosa Bianca at farmers’ markets. The coloring alone makes me want to grow it; the fact that it is a favorite of chefs makes it a definite choice for me.
Twilight Hybrid Eggplant: High yields are the big promise of this traditionally- colored eggplant. This one would be a vegetable garden staple (and most like the ones Mrs. Scott shared with me when I was growing up).
Ophelia Hybrid Eggplant: This one is perfect for containers, with a compact habit the lilac and white blooms that are just stunning! Easy to grow and great for cooking, plus does well in tight spaces, this eggplant would be the best one for beginning gardeners or those with small spaces.
So, sound off- are you growing eggplant? Any tips and tricks for our readers?