Garden to Table: Eggplant

Eggplant produces very well and over a long period.

Rosa Bianca eggplant is a real gourmet plant. It has fat, egg shaped fruits with lilac skins, and is a great specimen plant for a pot in a greenhouse or windowsill.

Photo by: F_studio / Shutterstock.com

F_studio / Shutterstock.com

Rosa Bianca eggplant is a real gourmet plant. It has fat, egg shaped fruits with lilac skins, and is a great specimen plant for a pot in a greenhouse or windowsill.

Eggplant is a solanaceous crop, related to tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, that grow during summer. But in our warm Southern soils, the eggplant season typically spans from the end of the spring season up until the first winter frosts in early November.

Eggplant also might be the single hardiest plant we have come across — perfect in most U.S. climates. Farmers grow crops for varying qualities, including ease of growing, beauty, variety, display and customer demand. Eggplant fills all of these multiple characteristics with their bountiful harvests, hot-weather hardiness and varying scope of shapes, colors and sizes. The only real downside: a lack of high customer interest.

Luckily for us, not everyone is eggplant-shy. There are plenty of eggplant enthusiasts in our CSA subscription group and at market who get really creative with this spongy fruit.  Some folks make mountains of ratatouille, others like to heap them on the grill. Or how about a fantastic Madras Pickled Relish from The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard?

This year we planted our eggplant crop in a manner called conservation tillage, which allows us to give some of our fields a break from turning over the soil every couple of years in our crop rotation. We basically sow winter rye grasses the previous fall and roll them flat in early spring. Then we use post-hole diggers to make holes in the mulched mat of grass for our eggplant seedlings. And voila! We have planted our crop without disturbing the soil, and have also left lots of delicious, rotting roots from the folded grass for our soil microbes to eat up. Not all crops do well in this system, but eggplant has performed well every year so far.—Joe and Judith

Varieties Grown

We have streamlined our production to just grow one globe type, Nadia, and one long eggplant variety, Ping Tung Long. In years past, we have grown a tremendous diversity of eggplants including Rosita, Rosa Bianca, Prosperosa, Listada De Gandia, and Louisiana Long Green. For a fun, small-fruited variety that keeps on producing, try Fairytale from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Seed Source

What I’m Wearing

Whether the exterior is black, purple or green, globed varieties of eggplant deliver fluffy, creamy textures when cooked up. Their long purple or green counterparts tend to hold up well to high cooking, but retain a sinewy quality that delivers a tasty chew.

Tasting Notes

Eggplant could easily be described as light on the tongue and moderately sweet, but it lends itself best as a starchy supporting cast for savory, herbal or fat-infused recipes. We always tell our customers that eggplant is really all about texture.

How to Grow

  • Start with young plants, or grow them from seeds in cells, in a warm, well-lit environment. We usually keep potting up our eggplant seedlings until their roots fill 4” pots. These larger transplants tend to outgrow the damage caused by leaf-chewing flea beetles.
  • Due to their big size, we plant globed eggplant 18” apart, but only 12” apart for the long varieties, which tend to be less bushy. Make sure to give 3-4’ between rows for ease of harvest.
  • Don’t put young plants in the ground until your last frost date has passed. If the flea beetle is a big problem, cover young plants with a woven fabric that lets through at least 90 percent of the light. Make sure to remove covers when you see the first blooms.
  • Mulch them heavily right away. Some trellising support provides more harvestable fruit.
  • No need to pick your plants too heavily. We pick our plants once a week, allowing the fruit to grow to full-size before harvest. However, make sure to pick them before the color dulls or grays, and the fruit becomes too tough.
  • The biggest advice we can give is to not over-plant. Eggplant produces very well and over a long period.

Eggplant is the main attraction of the vegetable world: able to carry a meal on its own, say our foodie friends over at FD Dish. So instead of kicking it to the sidelines, make it the centerpiece of a healthy summertime meal. A fresher take on the classic eggplant parm, Giada De Laurentiis serves up a novel Eggplant Timbale bursting with the heady flavors of smoked mozzarella and Marsala wine.  We’re also big fans of the medley of balanced ingredients in Giada’s Grilled Eggplant and Goat Cheese Salad, made with Japanese eggplant and toasted pine nuts. Feeling more Asian than Italian tonight? The try Food Network Magazine‘s Stir-Fried Eggplant, with just a touch of flavoring to play up the innate silky deliciousness of the versatile veg. The possibilities are endless when it comes to the Big E. Find even more eggplant recipes on FN Dish.

In this Garden to Table feature, farmer-bloggers Judith Winfrey and Joe Reynolds offer their tips for sowing, growing and harvesting. And then we kick it over to FN Dish for some delicious recipes using this seasonal produce.

Next Up

Eggplant 101: How to Cook this Exotic Veggie

There are plenty of ways to enjoy your aubergine.

Dig In: Fried Eggplant With Honey

Soak in the goodness of this traditional Spanish appetizer.

Eggplant Lasagna Stacks Up!

Who needs noodles when you've got eggplant?

How to Cook Eggplant Three Ways

Every good eggplant recipe starts with a sprinkling of salt.

How to Freeze Eggplant

Homegrown eggplant is delicious and then some. When you have more than you can eat, learn how to freeze eggplant for later use.

Grow Your Own Popcorn

Pop your own! Grow this classic snack in your garden for fresh flavor the store-bought stuff can't match.

Pickled Eggplant Recipe

Make a batch of this variation on the Italian pickled eggplant dish, melanzane sott'olio, with your extra eggplant from the garden.

Garden to Table: Cauliflower

Check out our HGTV advice for both growing and cooking versatile cauliflower in our Garden to Table feature.

Garden to Table: Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts offer the taste of a cabbage’s sweet, blanched heart in every singular blossom bite.

Garden to Table: Mixed Lettuce

Lettuce is one of the best dressed vegetables at market.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.

What's New in Outdoors

On TV

Home Town

6am | 5c

Home Town

7am | 6c

Home Town

8am | 7c

Home Town

9am | 8c

Home Town

10am | 9c

Hot Mess House

11am | 10c

Hot Mess House

11:30am | 10:30c

Hot Mess House

12pm | 11c

Hot Mess House

12:30pm | 11:30c

Good Bones

1pm | 12c

Good Bones

2pm | 1c

Good Bones

3pm | 2c

Good Bones

4pm | 3c

Good Bones

5pm | 4c

Good Bones

6pm | 5c

Good Bones

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Good Bones

8pm | 7c

Good Bones

9pm | 8c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

Good Bones

12am | 11c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

Good Bones

3am | 2c

Good Bones

4am | 3c

Good Bones

5am | 4c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.