Late summer and early fall are prime season for hot-weather produce. And that includes eggplant.
“Eggplant is in season big time right now,” says Paula Guilbeau of Heirloom Gardens.
Guilbeau farms on 1.5 acres in Dahlonega and brings her produce to the Peachtree Road Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. She also supplies many local restaurants.
She’s growing two varieties of Asian-type eggplant this year – Millionaire and Ichiban. Both are long, slender fruits (yes, eggplant is a fruit) with a sweet, mild flavor. Both are the dark purple color we associate with Italian eggplant.
“I grow these because they’re so tender. You don’t need to peel them and you can skip that old step of slicing and salting eggplant to reduce bitterness before you cook it. They’re quick to cook and work great in stir fries although they also make a great eggplant Parmesan.”
Guilbeau starts her plants with seeds in December or January at the same time she’s starting her tomatoes. The seedlings go into the greenhouse in April and then into the ground outside in late May. She got her first harvest at the end of June this year and expects she’ll have eggplant available until frost kills the plants.
Her favorite way to cook eggplant is to slice it in half lengthwise and then let the slices sit in balsamic vinegar for a little bit. “Then I cook it on whatever’s been lit up for the night, the oven or the grill. Add a little olive oil and garlic, some salt and pepper.”
Eggplant should be eaten not long after harvest. They need to be kept cool and dry, but not necessarily in the refrigerator since the optimum temperature for storage is about 50 degrees.
If you won’t be using them the day you bring them home, store them at room temperature for the day or two before you use them. They can be refrigerated, but after a few days the eggplants will start to pit and the seeds and pulp will begin to turn brown. Soon decay sets in and the eggplant gets thrown away. A sad end for a beautiful vegetable your farmer worked hard to grow.
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