There have been discussions at CSA distributions with several people regarding eggplant preparation. So, we thought we'd put some things out for your consideration.
1. Our website has some good eggplant recipes here.
2. A very good web page giving lots of information about eggplant is here.
Some eggplant myths:
1. eggplant ripeness myth - push in with your thumb - if it bounces back it is ripe, if indentation remains, it is not. First, if the indentation remains, it is more likely that the fruit is old - or dehydrated in its travels from the farm to its retail outlet. Second, with some varieties, you'll have to push really hard! Many cultures prepare eggplant when they are very small (maybe 2-3 inches long) and some prize very large eggplant. For eggplant, it is less a matter of being ripe enough (old enough) and more a matter of it being too old!
2. preparation myth - you must peel and 'sweat' eggplant. Many people still hold to the fact that eggplant are bitter unless you peel the skin off and rub the fruit with salt to sweat out the bitterness (many recommend that you thoroughly rinse off the salt after). It is true that eggplant can be bitter - especially when they are picked older *or* bigger. And, also true if you tend to purchase certain types of eggplant (usually the dark purple eggplant most commonly seen in the US). Other ways to reduce bitterness if that taste bothers you - twice cook the eggplant *or* select eggplant varieties that are known to be less bitter *or* select younger/smaller eggplant fruits *and* select fruits that feel heavier/denser as they have a higher water content.
Eggplant Varieties We Grow:
With the demise of Dusky, we realized it was time to give the open pollinated varieties a full shot at replacing the reliable F1 Hybrid. Casper, Pintung Long and Diamond were all given an increased role on the farm. We weren't just taking a guess as we've grown each of these in smaller amounts the last few years. Even so, the task was going to be difficult - with Dusky often producing 10-12 eggplant per plant in a season. And, a few trial plants can give you an idea as to what they can do - but it's not the same as growing thirty to forty of one each. We've just finished August and Casper is at 9.9/plant, Pintung is at 9.0 and Diamond at 8.4. Sold!
Pintung Long A long, thin, lavender eggplant that is one of several types of 'Asian' eggplant. The skin is more tender than most other eggplant and the fruit will bruise more easily. The flesh quickly takes on any marinade and tends to be softer. 'Sweating' the fruit of a Pintung Long is a waste of time, as is peeling. You don't need to do it. If one of these is bitter, it was bad fruit. The leaves of the plant are pretty, with some purplish veining. They are a bit more contained than many eggplant varieties, though they can still get to about 30" in hight. In our experience, Pintung Long plants like warmer weather and we notice the average quality of the fruit (especially length) goes down as the season goes on. Seven to nine weeks of production are not out of the question, with a peak of about four weeks. We easily get an average of 9-10 top quality eggplant per plant as long as there is enough growing degree days over the summer. A cool wet year like 2008...never mind.
Rosa Bianca is our gateway eggplant. Neither of us were terribly interested in adding eggplant to our diet until.... we tried Rosa Bianca. Fruit are rounded and are lavender and white in color. We strongly believe that these taste alot like portabella mushrooms - especially when sliced into rounds and cooked on the grill. We tend not to sweat Rosa Bianca and usually do not peel them, though you may if you want since the skin is a bit tougher than Pintung Long. In fact, later in the season, you may benefit from peeling as the cooler weather and shorter days slows the speed with which fruit develop. The result is often a tougher hide! The flesh is more solid than Pintung Long, so it maintains its consistency unless you overcook it (or want to cook it down - it does well if that is your goal). Rosa's tend to produce later in the season with first fruits usually 7 to 10 days after Pintung. But, they also handle a frost and late season weather better than many. We have picked decent eggplant from these as late as October (in Iowa). Plants can be on the average to larger side with only a little 'sprawl' tendency. You can expect 5-8 eggplants per plant of very good quality. As the plant ages, it may produce eggplant that split open and 'heal' over. If the fruit feels light (dehydrated) pick it off and toss it - let it work on other fruit. If you are a fan of very small eggplant for certain dishes, Rosa Bianca can be enticed to produce more fruit if you keep them picked when they reach 3-4" in diameter.
Casper - fruits have a skin that is slightly thicker than some, but not so thick that you can't cook it with the skin on. We do not sweat Casper, but we understand why a person might take the skin off. We like grilling the fruit by cutting them into long wedges. The skin helps to hold the vegetable together for serving. Usually, we're so hungry by the time food is ready we just eat the whole thing, but we've seen some just leave the skin behind. Casper has a consistency that makes it a decent mushroom substitute in pasta sauces. Plants are average size and are well-behaved. Some eggplant tend to sprawl as they grow. We have noticed that fruit tend to be smaller in dry weather. We like them best when they are about 8" long.
A note about WIND and eggplant: we tend to get alot of wind early in the year and much less during late July through August (when eggplant are at their peak). However, there are often some windy days in September. Wind will beat eggplant fruit against the plant, which results in brown, discolored bruises. The eggplant are fine to eat, but they store for a shorter period of time and they will be best if they are picked soon after the wind damage. This is where a handsome fruit like Casper can look positively AWFUL. If you get alot of wind during prime production season, you'll get alot of brown, bruised eggplant with some white on them. Not a good idea if you are selling at market. We suggest growing a companion that helps shield the eggplant from some of the wind if you can.
Florida Highbush - is an open-pollinated standard purple eggplant with the shape so many midwesterners know. These can get very large and are very heavy. Excellent for baba ghannuj. Thicker skins may need peeling for other recipes or uses. Some people who are more sensitive to eggplant 'bitterness' may sweat these. Plants are variable in size and production. In other words, they exhibit some of the reasons F1 hybrids have been created. Commercial producers want consistent size and production. Florida Highbush gives us neither, ranging from 3 to 8 fruit per plant. Plants can get a little 'sprawly.' On the other hand, it seems like the F1 hybrids get bitter and this eggplant has a better taste - so we grow it. And, we rarely see an 'off-fruit' (splits, odd ball shape, etc) on these plants. These are much better in hot years - but what did you expect from an heirloom with 'Florida' in the name?
Listada de Gandia - has to be one of the prettiest fruits on any plant we grow. These are real show stoppers at the market. Taste is similar to Florida Highbush. Some have told us they can taste a difference between Listada and other standard eggplant, but we cannot. Fruit tend to be dense and heavy. Think of them as a pretty jacket for an eggplant. Can be harvested at many sizes, but best not to let them get too big. Dry weather results in some off fruit (dry fruit, splits, stunted fruit) that are better discarded in most cases. Plants can get pretty big and sprawl. Listada produces for a very long time and has actually bested Dusky for per plant production in a difficult weather year. Production levels often have two or three 'peak periods' rather than one. So, you ride a bit of a roller coaster with this plant.
Diamond - is a dark purple eggplant that is much smaller than Florida Highbush. It's purpose is to produce many more, smaller, fruit that are cylindrical in shape. This makes them a good choice for grilling and other recipes. Plants tend to be smaller and it can be easier to find fruit most of the time since the leaves are also smaller. One plant can have four to eight fruit developing at the same time easily. If you have limited space in a garden and want a dark purple eggplant and you want a good supply for eggplant parmesan, here is a good choice. Diamond will start producing a week to ten days earlier than bigger eggplant such as Florida Highbush, Listada de Gandia and Rosa Bianca.