About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Overabundance of Aubergines



I love eggplants (aubergines), but have never had much luck growing them.  This is my 8th gardening season here at the ranch and I've probably gotten a grand total of a dozen puny, bitter specimens altogether. Previously, in Tucson I tried for at least 5 years and I don't think I ever got an edible fruit the whole time.  It's been a long combination of bad luck (Tucson's climate is prime for Spider Mites that always killed my plants well before they even set fruit), bad choices (for a couple of years tried some varieties that couldn't handle the cool nights and wild winds we get in the spring) and bad gardening (over-watering, under-watering, you name it and I've done it) that has kept the bountiful harvest from me.  That is, until this year.

Call it "the perfect storm" of things going right for a change.  Knowing my history with eggplants, but wanting to give it the "old college try" one more time, I chose my seed stock carefully, started them a bit early in the greenhouse to give them a better leg-up on the season when it was time to set them out and I also started about 3 times as many plants as I wanted in the garden to allow for poor germination and/or a high juvenile/transplant attrition rate.

Our normal growing season here is moderately short, about 120 days.  Our official "last frost date" is May 30th but this spring was early with no serious frosts after about the middle of May.  We had our only 100 degree F day on June 4th or 5th so there was no problem getting all the tender plants out of the greenhouse and into the garden.  There had been nearly 100% seed germination and no seedling losses with the eggplants so I had LOTS of really well established little plants to set out. Transplanting went well with no losses there either.

Here's a picture of a nice row of established eggplant plants (just in front of the purplish Broccoli plants)

We did have one close call with them.  An infestation of Stripped Potato Beetles tried to take over all the nightshade family plants (peppers, tomatoes and eggplants) for a few weeks but the daily, brutal hand picking and squishing of hundreds of them kept them under control until the major threat passed.

So, all the happy little eggplants started blossoming and setting fruit.  By the first of August we were already harvesting enough of them to have a good eggplant meal (Eggplant Parmesan, Grilled Eggplant as a side dish etc) several times a week for several weeks.
 
 One of the early eggplant harvests

We did a major harvest in early September and got about 15 lbs of eggplant.  I processed most of it into breaded, pan-fried cutlets for the freezer but also made a few mixed vegetable sides and a Spicy Szechuan Eggplant in Garlic Sauce dinner or two and some Ratatouille.

Part of the September harvest

Eggplant Cutlets

Our "first frost date" is officially October 1 so starting before the end September we keep an eagle eye on the weather forecasts and try and be ready to do a big, last minute, final harvest from the veggie garden when it's time. This year we cruised through most of October with unseasonably mild nights but last week a blast of cold, windy northern air suddenly came heading our way and we had to really scramble to pick everything left before it hit.  In addition to nearly 2 bushels of sweet peppers, 1/2 bushel of jalapenos, and a few tomatoes, we wrangled another almost 20 lbs of eggplants out of the garden that night.

Right now, they are sitting in one of our commercial reach-in fridges in the dairy awaiting a) time to work with them and b) inspiration.  I know I want to make a big Moussaka, a large batch of Lamb and Eggplant with Red Chiles, and maybe a few more bags of cutlets for the freezer but I figure that is only going to use about half of it!  This is WAY too much eggplant for two people to eat in a year, I think, but after all the time and effort in growing them, and finally being successful, I refuse  to waste even a single eggplant.  It's time to hit the search engines for more ideas.

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