Childhood memories of growing eggplant

“To this day, I cannot see a bright daffodil, a proud gladiola, or a smooth eggplant without thinking of Papa. Like his plants and trees, I grew up as part of his garden.” ~ Leo Buscaglia,”Papa My Father,” 1989

As I was growing up in Central Florida, I was part of my dad’s garden, too. He didn’t grow daffodils or gladiolas, but he did grow eggplant. This unusual vegetable (technically a berry) was my introduction into how the food I loved at the dinner table was grown and harvested outdoors (not at Winn Dixie). Helping my dad in the garden began a lifelong connection between the earth and my food that I have tried to pass along to my own children.

'Black Beauty' eggplant growing in my garden

Now I grow eggplant (Solanum melongena) in my own garden, and I particularly enjoy growing heirlooms that have a long history behind them:

  • ‘Black Beauty’ – introduced in the U.S. in 1902
  • ‘Long Purples’ – first recorded in U.S. in 1855
  • ‘Lisatada de Gandia’  – introduced in France in early 1850s
  • ‘Old White Egg’ – introduced in England in 1500s; this cultivar is why eggplant is called eggplant (now they are called aubergines in England)

I grow eggplants because they thrive in my hot backyard garden, they grow well in grow bags, they have pretty flowers and foliage, and I enjoy eating them grilled and in eggplant parmigiana (my dad’s recipe). In addition, eggplant is a nutritious and healthy food:

  • They contain antioxidants to fight cancer.
  • They are rich in manganese for healthy nerve functioning.
  • They are filled with dietary fiber for colon health.
  • They are low in calories (although my eggplant parmigiana is not).

Blossom drop

Other than some earwig damage early in the season, I don’t have much trouble with insect pests or diseases invading my eggplants. The biggest challenge I encounter growing eggplant is blossom drop due to intense heat. Triple-digit temperatures dry out the container soil quickly, and I have to be prepared to adjust the drip irrigation so the plants don’t become stressed. Eggplants need 2-3 inches of water every week, and it’s best to water thoroughly less frequently so the moisture reaches the deep roots of the plant.

Extreme heat also causes the flower’s pollen to become inactive because the stressed plant is trying to reduce the amount of energy it needs to support fruit. I can relate to this – when I’m stressed, I certainly can’t handle any new projects!  Providing shade for my plants during hot afternoons has helped reduce blossom drop, although I have had some casualties during our recent heat wave.

Even though I’m not 100 percent successful at preventing blossom drop, I will continue growing and learning about eggplant. Every time I cut an eggplant from its stalk and carry it

Homegrown purple eggplant and tomatoes

into the house, I think of my dad and the garden I helped him tend when I was a kid. It’s a memory that’s definitely worth a few setbacks along the way.

I found this beautiful memory of a garden with eggplants written by English novelist and poet, Doris Lessing (1919-2013). She wrote:

“The smell of manure, of sun on foliage, of evaporating water, rose to my head; two steps farther, and I could look down into the vegetable garden enclosed within its tall pale of reeds – rich chocolate earth studded emerald green, frothed with the white of cauliflowers, jeweled with the purple globes of eggplant and the scarlet wealth of tomatoes.”

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