Finally. It’s taken four years to learn how to grow eggplant well enough to get any significant harvest.
I wrote my long sad eggplant story in a comment recently, but I’ll move it up here in case others have as much trouble growing eggplant as I do.
2007: White eggplant is so tasty and not always easy to find at markets, so it was one of the first things I wanted to grow in my central Virginia kitchen garden. I grew the plants from seed and set them out in late May I’m not sure about the variety. It may have been ‘Cloud 9′, but if not, it was similar. I knew that flea beetles were a pest on eggplant, but didn’t worry much about it. I should have worried. The leaves were turned to lace and we harvested maybe 2 or 3 very small eggplants that year.
2008: So now, knowing that flea beetles might a problem, I made no attempt to defend the plants against them. Bad move. This time the plants were defoliated and we harvested zero eggplants. It may have been this year or it may have been 2009, but I changed varieties to ‘Rosa Bianca’ just in case the variety was the problem.
2009: Row covers. I was reading an English gardening magazine – Kitchen Garden – and noticed several advertisements for green-colored mesh row covers. I’ve never seen anything quite like that here and they look so much better than the white spun-material row covers we have here. So I searched for a mesh row cover and came up with Dio-Betalon, which is supposed to be durable, breathable, and transmit more light than the more common spun row covers. It’s semi-transparent, not green however. It’s also very expensive, but I bought anyway. I used it on radishes first, and some critter chewed a hole right through it and went on eating radish leaves. Durable as long as you don’t have critters. Anyhow, I had enough left that I could cover the eggplant with a new section (no unintended holes). It worked moderately well against the flea beetles, but not at all against the Colorado potato beetles (which showed up for the first time in 2008, but never got a chance that year to ruin the eggplant as the flea beetles had already done that). 2009 was a dismal, wet, cold summer (exactly opposite to this year) and eggplant likes heat. We had a total harvest of 2 or 3 small ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplants from 4 or 5 plants.
2010: I changed varieties again, thinking that smaller-fruited eggplant would possibly have a chance to mature before something bad happens to the plants. This year I planted ‘Udumalapet’, ‘Pingtung Long’, and one plant of ‘Rosa Bianca’. I really want chubby substantial eggplant to roast whole for baba ganoush and baingan bharta, so I haven’t completely given up hope on larger-fruited varieties. I dug in some organic fertilizer at the time of planting out and got very sturdy dark green plants. I switched to ugly Agribon row cover because the good piece of Dio-Betalon I used last year ripped in the wind late last fall when I covered the fall potatoes with it. I tried to get a better insect barrier from the Agribon by weighting down the edges with pieces of wood, although I did remove it for part of the day when the plants started to flower. The good news is that there was almost no flea beetle damage this year. The bad news is that the Colorado potato beetles got in anyway. I picked them off, but the ones I missed chewed the leaves considerably. And now there’s some insect I haven’t yet identified. Anybody know what this is? (You can get a good sense of how badly some of the leaves have been devoured.)
But, we have eggplant. Not a bumper crop, but enough to serve at several meals. The first thing I made was Vangi Bhaji, more-or-less following this recipe which was adapted from the English language version of Ruchira.
The second thing I made was an Eggplant and Goat Cheese salad very loosely based on a recipe in Silk Road Cooking: a Vegetarian Journey. I learned a useful technique from that recipe. Cut the eggplant into cubes (about 1 inch), toss them with olive oil and roast in the oven. You get an almost-grilled flavor this way. I roasted onions and peppers too and dressed the mixture with olive oil & lemon juice and added the goat cheese last.
The third dish was an eggplant and pork curry from The Food of Thailand.
And last night I made Burmese steamed eggplant with a chile sauce, adapted from James McNair Cooks Southeast Asian.
Lunch today is going to be grilled eggplant sandwiches. I’ll use the ”Pingtung Long’ eggplant, split lengthwise, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, grilled until soft, and then sandwiched in a baguette with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayonnaise. We’ve had countless variations on this sandwich over the years. Just about any kind of eggplant will work as long as you can slice it in large enough pieces to stay on the grill. Cheese is a nice addition, as is bacon. Roasted peppers are good. You can send it in a Middle-Eastern direction by marinating with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil before grilling, then stuff into pita or wrap in naan with yogurt and sliced cucumber. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Believe it or not, there are even 3 fruits on the one ‘Rosa Bianca’ plant this year. We may get homegrown baba ganoush yet.
This post is doing double duty as my entry for the inaugural edition of Wendy’s Garden-to-Table Challenge, and as a plug for tomorrow’s World Kitchen Garden Day, as declared by Kitchen Gardeners International.
Some previous eggplant posts: