What wonderful plants these are. The plant has two common names. Here in the UK we called it: Eggplant and in the rest of the world, They are known as; Aubergine.
The plant is a member of the nightshade species and as such related to the potato and tomato. Asian in origin and first written about in China in 544. I think of it being Greek because they use it in many of their dishes, however in China, the fruit is in daily use.
Here in the UK, they were first thought to be inedible. They were used around the house as ornaments so that people could enjoy the glorious colors, glossy smoothness as well as its sensual shape.
For a long time, the Aubergine was thought to be grown only in warmer climates, however, now that short-season varieties have been developed so that people living in more northern climates can grow them.
I have never seen or tried to grow Aubergines outside. Some form of cover, be it Polly tunnel, glasshouse or cold frame is needed here in the UK.
I sow my seeds inside in small pots half an inch deep in good potting soil, two seeds to a pot. After the seeds have grown for a while, I pinch off the weaker of the two, leaving one plant per pot. I found that by late May or early June the temperatures have risen high enough to plant out in my glasshouse.
It is very important to make sure to harvest the Aubergine at the right stage. As the fruit ages, they can become bitter-tasting with soft flesh and tough skins. Size of the fruit is no indicator that they are ready to be harvest. A mature Aubergines will have a glossy, taut skin and flesh that is just barely resistant.
A good test is to press down on the Aubergine very gently with your thumb: if the flesh of the fruit presses in and bounces back, the fruit is ready for eating. If the flesh is hard, that is, with no give then you must wait awhile because the fruit is immature and too young to pick. On the other hand if the flesh of the Aubergine when pressed down, stays down, then the fruit is overripe.
Be aware that Aubergine bruise very easily, so when you harvest them be gently. The stems of the plant can also be prickly, so you might want to wear a pair of gloves or use shears. Always cut off the Aubergine with the cap and some of the stem attached.
Aubergine are also very perishable, so it is best to harvest as close to cooking time as possible. As a hot climate vegetable it does not store well in cold climates, so do not put it in the fridge.
I never peel mine when cooking or though some cooks insist on it. I am always for the easy life! I also never use salt when cooking them. You should know that Aubergines will drink up olive oil, so do not use too much. For ideas on cooking them go to Chinese or Japanese recipes.
Here are a few cooking hints:
Mix diced Aubergine fried with hot pepper into scrambled eggs.
Drain fried Aubergine on brown paper; this will help absorb excess oil.
I have found that using carbon steel knives discolour Aubergine, best is to use stainless steel knives when cutting them.