BLACK BEAUTY EGGPLANT is probably the heirloom your grandparents grew and it is on my "must grow" list every year as it remains the most reliable producer of any variety, including many newer hybrids. Large bulbous dark fruits with exceptional taste and so productive -- it often has up to 5 fruits at once and, kept picked, produces through the long season. It is strong - just winked at an early flea beetle problem and has withstood a hurricane without skipping a beat (it wasn't even staked!). The flowers are large and beautiful - What's not to love about this grand old eggplant? 80 days. 25 seeds.
CHERRYGAL'S EASY (i.e. the Lazy Nana Recipe) EGGPLANT PARMESAN: This is so incredibly easy because the Black Beauty is so tender it does not need to be peeled. This dish freezes or reheats well. Allow one eggplant per person. Slice eggplant horizontally into 1/2" slices, skin on. Lay on baking sheet and brush with olive oil that has been mixed with chopped basil and garlic, but do not put any of the basil or garlic on the eggplant (save for later). Broil for 10 minutes. While that is broiling, put the remainder of the olive oil mix in the bottom of the casserole. This way, the basil and garlic bake and do not turn bitter. Then, in the same bowl that you mixed up the basil and olive oil mix tomato paste, freshly cut (seeded & peeled) tomatoes, and red wine. Then layer in your casserole or other baking dish in two alternating layers with eggplant, grated mozzarella, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, more freshly torn up basil and salt/pepper to taste. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until done.
ABOUT EGGPLANT: Fresh grown eggplant is an altogether heavenly experience - nothing like the overgrown and tired versions you see in the grocery which taste like old athletic socks. As a member of the nightshade family, eggplant was centuries overcoming the fear that it was as poisonous as its cousins. That is why it acquired the nickname "mad apple." And it is true that a very immature eggplant contains toxins that can make you sick and you should never eat the foliage. With origins many believe trace to ancient China, the eggplant traveled to Europe coutesy of the Moor invasion of the 6th Century. But it was not until the 17th Century French Enlightenment that eggplant came into popularity, served pretty much as we eat it today. President Andrew Johnson claimed it as a favorite.
NUTRITIONAL: I used to think of eggplant as nothing more than a cheese delivery vehicle, but guess what? It is a wonderful source of important nutrition AND a dieter's best friend! Low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol but high in dietary fiber, eggplant is packed with folate, potassium, manganese, Vitamins C and K, Thiamin, Niacin, B-6, Panthothenic Acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper. It is so good for dieters in fact, that folks trying to GAIN weight are advised not to eat too many eggplants!
MEDICINAL: All members of the nightshade family - which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and all peppers except black pepper - contain some level of a toxin called solanine, an alkaloid that can caue diarrhea, heart failure, headache and vomiting in sensitive people. But if you are NOT sensitive (which is most of us) there are wonderful benefits to be had in this gourmand delight. Eating eggplant can reduce swelling, reduce bleeding, comfort hemorrhoids and treat dysentery. High in bioflavonoids, it belongs in your cancer fighting arsenal. Here are two more interesting medicinal uses -- raw eggplant applied topically for scorpion bites. And a compress made of infused eggplant for frostbite!
GROWING TIPS: Eggsplants love warm weather - don't stress out your seedlings by planting too early you will only set back fruiting. Plant flowers nearby to encourage pollination and if fruit set is heavy, give some support to keep the fruits from the ground - a small stake will do. Eggplants are heavy feeders that require regular watering and respond very well to organic compost and fish emulsions. Keep the fruit picked so production continues. Use pruning shears and watch out for the spiny stems on some varieties.