Wait until night temperatures are consistently above 60°F (15°C) before planting your eggplant or placing the patio container outdoors. Even though the plants can recover from a few cold nights, they may become stunted or susceptible to disease.
Be sure to provide good drainage and rich organic soil, and be sure to give eggplants plenty of space and support. Most varieties will need 24 to 36 in. (60-90 cm) between plants and 2 to 3 ft. (60-90 cm) between rows.
Mulch can help them get off to a fast start in the spring when temperatures are cooler.
- Choose a sunny location (6+ hours of sun) for your eggplant patio container, or to grow in-ground dig a hole about two times as wide as your pot.
- Remove your plant from the pot by loosening the soil and tipping it out into your hand. Place your plant in the soil about as deep as it was in the pot.
- Refill the space around your plant with soil and press lightly to compact the dirt, keeping your plant firmly in the ground.
- Water immediately to settle the soil, and add more soil as needed, bringing it level to the rest of your garden.
Traditional eggplant varieties have a reputation for developing a bitter flavor when grown under stressful conditions. Make sure they get lots of water and fertilizer to insure rapid growth and fruit maturity. Fortunately, modern hybrid varieties are not likely to exhibit bitterness in spite of the weather.
Harvest the fruits when they are still glossy and 6 to 8 in. (15-20 cm) long for traditional-sized eggplant, 2 to 3 in. (5-7 cm) long for mini-size eggplant. Use a knife or pruning shears rather than breaking or twisting the stems. Many eggplant varieties have small prickly thorns on the stem, so exercise caution or wear gloves when harvesting. Leave the large (usually green) stem attached to the fruit.
Eggplant is delicious battered and fried. Mix an egg in a half cup of milk. Dip quarter-inch slices of eggplant in the milk then shake them in a plastic bag with Italian bread crumbs. Fry in oil until crisp, then drain on paper towels and sprinkle with a bit of Creole Seasoning or salt. Even kids will eat eggplant prepared this way if you don't tell them what they're eating!
Eggplant is also great in casseroles. Cut the eggplant into half-inch chunks and steam until tender. Use any of the Italian sauces readily available in jars at the grocery store (or spend all day making mama's marinara sauce), but also cook up some fresh Italian sausage and add this to the sauce. In a casserole dish, layer the sauce, chunks of eggplant, fresh Romano or parmesan cheeses, Italian bread crumbs, mozzarella, more sauce, etc. Top it off with more bread crumbs and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly. When eggplants are plentiful, make up a bunch of these casseroles in foil pans and freeze them.
Today's hybrids are so sweet and flavorful that one of the best preparations is to simply place slices on the grill after brushing lightly with olive oil. Go easy on the oil, as eggplant will absorb a lot of it. Cook just until the slices have nice grill marks on both sides.
The eggplant, and its close relative the tomato, were considered poisonous for many years. Eventually the adventurous began to try eating eggplant and it even earned a reputation as an aphrodisiac. But, it's only been in the last 100 years that eggplant has been widely accepted as a vegetable. The large-fruited varieties probably originated in India while the smaller eggplants are thought to have come from China.