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Vermont Garden Journal: Perfect Eggplants For Vermont Summers

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Although thought of as an Italian specialty, eggplants actually hale from India. Breeding in Asia, Europe and America have produced a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes.

One of my childhood food memories is my mom's eggplant parmesan. Back then the eggplant wasn't the main attraction, it was the gooey mozzarella cheese and sweet, garlic-ladened tomato sauce. My mom no longer cooks, but I still like to whip up a good batch of eggplant parm in the summer using our fresh veggies.  Now, I even appreciate the eggplants, too!

Although thought of as an Italian specialty, eggplants actually hale from India. Eggplants have come a long way from the small, spiny, bitter orange fruit in the wilds of India. Breeding in Asia, Europe and America have produced a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes.

While the large oval, teardrop-shaped varieties such as "Black Beauty" and "Rosa Bianca" are perfect for making eggplant parm, we may not get many fruits during our cool summers in Vermont. That's why I also like growing the long, thin Asian varieties such as "Oriental Express," "Ping Tung Long" and "Fairy Tale." These tend to produce more fruits, sooner. They're best for grilling, skewering and sauteeing.

Eggplants require long, warm days and fertile soil to produce well. Grow plants on sandy loam soil and amend well with compost or grow eggplants in containers. Dark-colored containers accumulate heat, which eggplants love. Keep the plants well fertilized and watered.

Protect in-ground planted eggplants from chilly nights with floating row covers until mid-June and side-dress with an organic fertilizer once every three weeks.

To harvest, press the skin of full-sized fruits. If it bounces back, they’re ready to eat. If your finger leaves an indent, they’re over mature and probably bitter. Soak fruits in water for 15 minutes before cooking and remove skins to reduce bitterness.

Now for this week's tip: to get larger peony flowers, snip off some of the smaller secondary buds under the large primary flower bud on your plants. To display indoors, float opened peony flowers in a shallow, glass bowl filled with water.

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