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This article was published originally on 5/2/1997
As commonly used as the eggplant is today, it's hard to imagine that at one time their use was viewed with suspicion (eggplants are in the nightshade family). The first eggplants grown weren't the large purple varieties frequently grown today, but rather small, white varieties with fruits shaped like eggs (thus the name eggplant).
Different cultures grow various types of eggplant. In Asia, where food is stir-fried quickly at high temperatures, long, narrow, quick-cooking varieties are preferred because they hold their shape and texture. Large, round varieties are preferred by Italian cooks. These varieties absorb other flavors and are readily incorporated into sauces. The French select purple varieties that have fine-grained flesh.
Eggplants love warm temperatures and grow best in full sun. Wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently around 55 F before transplanting outdoors in the spring. Water regularly (an inch a week) to avoid bitter tasting fruit. Eggplants are heavy feeders and benefit from regular fertilization throughout the growing season. Fertilize with a starter fertilizer at transplanting and again at fruit set. Large fruited varieties should have their side branches supported to prevent broken branches. After side branches develop, place stakes around the plants and run string between the stakes at 1 1/2 feet and 3 feet levels. Tie the branches to the string for support. Plants grow to a height of 2 to 3 feet.
Eggplants have their best flavor when they are harvested young. Early, repeated harvest also stimulates continuous fruit production. At harvest, the skin should be taut and shiny. Fruit that has lost its shine and has begun to change color is overripe and most likely bitter. Purple varieties take on a bronze appearance when overripe, while white eggplants begin to turn yellow. Press the fruit with your finger. If the skin springs back, the eggplant is ready for picking. Fruit that is not firm has probably been left on the plant too long. You can check fruit maturity by cutting as well. If the seeds are brown, the fruit is over-ripe and probably bitter. Look for light yellow seeds. The stems of eggplants are tough and should be cut with a knife or scissors to avoid broken branches. Some varieties even have spines on the calyx and may require gloves at harvest. Harvest typically begins 55 to 65 days from transplanting.
Some long fruited varieties to choose from include:
Year of Publication:
IC-477(10) -- May 2, 1997