This glossy, plump vegetable with its firm, meaty flesh is the perfect base for a host of dishes—pastas, burgers, seafood dishes, and meatless favorites.
Credit: Photo: Oxmoor House

SEASON: Although available year-round, eggplant is at its peak from July to October.

CHOOSING: When selecting, look for eggplants with firm, glossy skin. Size and color vary widely among types, but the eggplant should feel heavy. Avoid those with wrinkled skin, soft spots, or brown patches.

STORING: Store whole, unwashed eggplants in a produce bag to retain moisture and prevent shriveling. Because it can’t withstand temperatures below 45 degrees without damage, keep eggplant in your vegetable bin or the warmest section of your refrigerator.

GROWING: Like its cousin the tomato, eggplant is a summer favorite in most of the country. However, it can be grown and harvested in warmer regions like Florida from fall to spring.

The standard favorite, Black Beauty, is a good choice, but so are the long, lavender Oriental eggplants, the white ones that actually look like eggs, and even orange and green ones. The more unusual the eggplant, the more likely it will be that you need to start from seeds.

No matter which variety you choose, plant in the spring after the soil and air have warmed. Make up for the lost time by starting with transplants, even if you grow them yourself indoors.

Choose a sunny location with well-prepared soil and good drainage. Large-fruited types need to be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart, while the long, slender types can be set 1 to 2 feet apart. It’s a good idea to use a stake at planting time to support the plant later when it’s heavy with fruit. Small cages often used for tomatoes are a wonderful tool for eggplant.

Feed with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer at planting. Fertilize again every month throughout the season. Keep the soil evenly moist by watering at least an inch each week. Mulch to prevent drying. When it’s time to harvest, use clippers to cut the eggplants from the plant.