Eggplant: Savor the Season
by Kim Scherman, OLF-KRV Intern 2010
Savor the Season cards, each highlighing a specialty crop grown in Kansas with selection, storage and preparations tips as well a recipe, are available at 20+ markets across the state. Stop by your local farmers market and start cooking some local goodness today.
When planning Savor the Season producer programming for the Kansas Farmers Market Conference, there was no doubt who the go-to person for eggplant would be...Karen Pendleton.
Karen and John Pendleton operate Pendletons' Country Market just outside Lawrence. Back during the farm crisis in the early 1980s, the young married couple was searching for alternative crops to add to the farm's income. They thought they'd give asparagus a try and planted half an acre.
It proved quite popular and over the years the family planted many more acres (20+) of asparagus and added other vegetable and flower crops to their fields. Their U-Pick operation and on-farm store have become well-known throughout our region and stopping by the Pendleton's stalls at the Lawrence Farmers Market is a must for many in Douglas County.
But back to the eggplant...
While most farmers excel at producing crops, few are as savvy with marketing what they grow as Karen Pendleton. And eggplant is a prime example. When John and Karen first began bringing eggplant to the farmers market, Karen says she could hardly give it away. People just weren't interested.
Karen began researching recipes and sharing them with her shoppers. Sometimes she could persuade them to give it a try. More often than not, they'd be back to buy.
The Pendletons now offer over twenty varieties of eggplant, from the standard aubergine globe to slender Asian varieties in pink, violet and white.
The eggplant season begins in the greenhouses in mid-March when seeds are started. By early to mid-May, the transplants are set in the fields.
Karen says,"We like to plant good-sized plants so that we beat the flea beetles. By starting with a larger plant and waiting until the temperature's a little warmer, the beetles don't seem to bother them as much, and the plant doesn't get slowed down in the transplanting process."
In the field, rows are mounded and then drip irrigation and black plastic are laid. Specialized equipment punctures the plastic and a plant is dropped in the hole. The black plastic is valuable early in the season as it warms up the soil which encourages root growth. Later, the plastic inhibits weeds while helping to keep the soil moisture level consistent.
John and Karen prefer growing Chinese and Japanese eggplant types as they're smaller and do not show insect damage as much as the larger, Italian varieties. Karen says,"We never spray our eggplants with pesticide. We use integrated pest management, but haven't had to spray for insects for about 10 years."
So what are Karen's favorite varieties? Fengyuan Purple, Dancer, and Lavender Touch–all lavender or purple. In general, Karen prefers the slender Asian types as they have fewer seeds and are seldom, if ever, bitter.
"We also grow an ornamental eggplant, known commonly as 'Pumpkin on a stick' They're orange, not very good for eating, but look like little pumpkins in the late summer! We use it for flower arrangements," she says.
How do the Pendletons eat eggplant at their house? Karen's go-to recipe is eggplant dip, "It is something we can eat all the time with vegetables or a loaf of bread. It is great for entertaining or when we're just sitting around in the evening. This time of year it is difficult to fix dinner because we are so exhausted. It is nice to have something like this in our refrigerator."
Karen has a few additional eggplant tips to share:
- 1 pound eggplant = 3-4 cups chopped Good to know, as many recipies just call for a large eggplant or 2 medium eggplants
- The skin of young eggplants is edible.
- Salting to get rid of bitterness? Larger, older eggplants have brown seeds that contain a bitter liquid. Salting eggplants removes some of this liquid and improves their flavor. In general, it's not necessary to salt smaller eggplants since they have fewer seeds than larger eggplants.
- Eggplant cannot be stored in the freezer, unless cooked. I water-blanch for 4 to 5 minutes (up to 1 pound at a time) in 1 gallon of boiling water containing 1/4 cup lemon juice. Cool promptly and drain.
Here are the varieties the Pendletons grow:
Beatrice: Italian globe type, plum/lavender
Black Bell: Italian globe type, black
Blacknite: Globe type, black or deeper purple
Bride: Slender Asian type, white with faint stripes of pale lavender
Dancer: Cylindrical fruit, medium-sized, beautiful pinkist-purple
Epic: Teardrop-shaped, purple-black, 4" by 8"
Fengyuan Purple: Slender Asian–one of the longest available, purple, thin skin
Galine: Classic Italian bell with a hint of brown color
Gretel: White miniature, great for containers
Hansel: Purple miniature, great for containers
Ichiban Pingtung Long: Slender. violet-purple, at least 12 inches long
Italian Rose Bicolor: Oval 8" globe type, cream and rose fruit matures to pink-rose color
Lavender Touch: Teardrop-shaped, white color with a lavender blush
Machiaw: 9-12" long with pale lavender skin
Millionaire: Japanese type, smooth attractive black skin
Orient Charm: Slender Orient Express shape, in shades of fluorescent pink, pastel pink and white
Orient Express: Slender Asian, glossy black, 8 - 10" long
Raveena: Long slender Asian type, light green
Rosita: Teardrop shape, pink-lavender skin, 8-9" long
Vittoria: Cylindrical Italian, glossy deep purple, almost black with tender flesh, 10" long
Zebra: Teardrop, purple with white streaks