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Eggplant (Solanum melongena)


The Many Faces of

The open-pollinated Antigua Striped Eggplant from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, MO 65704) rivals the hybrid, Fairy Tale F1 (which was selected as an AAS winner) in beauty and productivity.

While there have been heavily promoted (in the garden media) green eggplant hybrids, nothing surpasses the open-pollinated Long Green from Thailand.

Another long stir-fry type from China, the culinary beauty of eggplant is that the flesh can absorb the flavors that you add in a stew of tomatoes, onions, peppers and olive oil or in a stir-fry with lots of garlic and szechwan hot sauce.

My favorite, thin slices from a wide round kind, dipped in egg and seasoned breadcrumbs, fried in olive oil and then dipped a Greek skordalia sauce.

The diversity of eggplant doesn't stop here, there is a world of eggplant diversity. Small marble sized eggplants, egg sized, purple and green striped, red and orange skin kinds, almost anything your mind can imagine. Surprisingly, diversity is preserved in the eggplants like no other vegetable. And in each region of the world. the vegetable has been selected for a different culinary purpose.

( Opus, an oddity from New Dimension Seeds.)

(It's Black Beauty, a really fine open-pollinated eggplant for slicing. I also like Florida Highbush types which yield big glossy black fruits.)

Eggplants are always part of the garden, in the front so that visitors can see their beautyand diversity. As a kid, I remember that the eggplants we grew were called New York or New York Improved and I'm sure it was developed here on Long Island since this is where great fields of eggplant were being raised in the 1950's. It had a medium sized fruit, more round than cylindrical. Some supplied the Italian markets in New York City and Queens, others were used by the pickling works that were still busy on Long Island near Farmingdale. But they were always purple.

Elwyn Meader was a plant breeder at the University of New Hampshire. He spent time in Korea, and with a brilliant eye for important crop traits that he could bring back to the U.S. was a remarkable plant collector, not only of vegetables but also a variety of fruits. Elwyn also had an appreciation for the unusual, the unique. The first non-purple eggplant I ever saw was released from his breeding program. A light green variation of New York Purple. I grew Applegreen for many years.

Today, the genetics of the "new" eggplants we're seeing come from all around the world from Italy and Turkey to India, Thailand and China, Japan and even Brazil.

Cluster eggplants are common in India. They have contributed their genetics to several "new" releases that we're now seeing in this country. We marvel at them because of their incredible productivity.

Casper, an open-pollinated white eggplant is considered one of the best for it's mild flesh.

Ping Tung, a variety from Taiwan from the Kitazawa Seed Company.

Saving Seed

To save eggplant from seed you must wait until the fruit thoroughly ripen on the plant. Thorough as in, begins to rot. The fruit will turn yellow or brown. My experience is leave it as long as you can. Then you can break open the fruit and work the seeds out of the spongy flesh in a basin of water. The seeds will sink and you can pour off the pulp, rinse the seeds and dry on newspaper or on screens.

Eggplants have a flower structure similar to tomatoes and peppers since they are in the same family, only bigger. They are considered to be largely self pollinating but with heavy insect visitation and closely spaced varieties, crossing can occur. If you are saving seed and must maintain purity, grow only one variety or separate your varieties by distance.