Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: egg plant

Eat What You Grow

This Black Beauty eggplant is a reliable producer here in The South.

This Black Beauty eggplant is a reliable producer here in The South.

Most of us tend to plan our gardens, at some point, by leafing through a seed catalog and picking what we like to eat. While “Grow what you like” is certainly a good way to start, a more realistic plan is to “Like what you grow”.

I have heard it said that there are places where one can grow just about anything. Unfortunately, I have never lived in such a place, so the best plan for me is to find what grows well here and focus on that. Once I find what grows well here, the focus then shifts to finding ways to prepare it so that we enjoy eating it.

I was never really fond of eggplant, but in the hottest part of the summer, eggplant is one of the very few things that thrives in the heat. I have never had any problems growing eggplant. It seems to repel bugs and I’ve never seen any disease. Aside from very mild heat wilt in the hottest part of the day, the heat doesn’t bother it. In addition, it produces a lot of fruit with just a few plants. Another plant with similar characteristics is okra. Since that is what grows well here, our focus then shifted to finding ways to make the best use of those crops.

Laura always seems to find a way to prepare a meal that I am sure to love. With eggplant, she slices it into thin slices, coats it with flour, then dips it in egg, then in seasoned bread crumbs. She then fries it in a cast iron skillet (cast iron is a requirement for any Southern kitchen worthy of the name) until the outside is nice and crispy. Add a bit of coarse-ground sea salt and serve. It is delicious.

Okra is even simpler – she cuts it into sections, fries it in oil, then salt and serve. Fried and breaded okra is, of course, one of the classics, but this is such a simple and delicious way to prepare it that it has become our standard. For a bit of variety, try okra gumbo – the acid in the tomato cuts the “slime” that makes many folks turn away from okra.

The key here is to shift the focus from trying to grow “favorites” that don’t do well where you are, to finding ways to really enjoy what does grow well at your location. Our next experiment will be Seminole Pumpkin – a staple of the early Seminole Indians here in Florida.

Saving Eggplant Seeds

Eggplant seeds are processed much like tomatoes. The main difference is that tomatoes are allowed to ferment in the same liquid that is used to separate the seeds, while eggplant fruit is rotted first and then added to water to separate the seeds. Fair warning – rotten eggplant has a really nasty smell (the seeds, of course, are completely odorless).

Processing the eggplant to remove the seeds is very much like panning for gold. The seeds are heavier than the pulp, and they sink to the bottom while the pulp and other trash is poured out from the top. After a few rinse and pour cycles, you are left with nice clean eggplant seeds.

Yes, this is far more seed than any gardener could possibly need, but there are two reasons why I process so many:

  • Eggplants are an in-breeding variety. Even though you may only need a couple of plants to supply all your needs, if you are saving seeds, you need to plant as many as possible (six is considered the absolute minimum) in order to maintain genetic diversity in your plants and their seeds.
  • Part of the joy of saving seeds is being able to give them away. A large quantity of seeds from this batch was carried to West Africa by missionary friends who will be planting them in their garden and sharing them with the natives in their village. They also carried a number of other seeds from our garden and seeds that others have shared with us.

Probably the single best reference book for saving seeds is Seed to Seed, by Suzanne Ashworth. Sub-titled Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, it is filled with detailed information about the best way to process and store seeds for maximum long-term viability. It is an essential book for any Southern Agrarian.

Eggplant fruit thoroughly rotted and ready for seed harvesting. One is not sufficiently rotted and was not used. A slotted seedling tray was used to hold the fruit as it rotted.

The eggplant fruits are added to a bucket of water where they are squeezed into a slurry.

Remove any chunks of eggplant that are large enough to pick up. These will be added into the compost pit.

Carefully pour off the water and the pulp. The seeds will have settled down to the bottom of the bucket.

Continue pouring until just before the seeds start to pour out. The pulp that accumulates can either be added to the compost or washed into the grass with a hose.

Add water, swish it around, and pour. Continue cleaning the seeds until you can't remove any more pulp, then carefully pour out as much water as possible.

Air dry the seeds until they no longer clump together.

The semi-dry seeds are spread on a sheet of parchment paper in the dehydrator and dried for about 6 hours at 100° F. The steel nuts are used as weights to keep the parchment paper flat. A better method is to use binder clips from an office supply store, but in this case, I only had enough clips for one of the three trays I was using.

After the seeds have been fully dried, pour them into a clean, dry canning jar and screw the lid down tightly. They should be stored in a cool dark place.

The dehydrator that we use is the Excalibur large 9-tray, Model #3926T. It is a forced air unit and has a timer and adjustable temperature control. A good dehydrator should be a part of any homestead. We have been well pleased with our Excalibur.

Hot Weather Crops

Here in The South, the intense summer heat limits your garden to only those few plant varieties that can truly handle the heat. Fall, Winter, and Spring gardens are when we get the nice lush growth, but with the heat and the insects it takes careful planning and selection to have a beautiful and productive garden.

This has been an especially hot and dry summer, and the stink bugs were out in force. I have long since pulled up the tomato and squash plants that just couldn’t handle the heat. Here is what I have in the garden now (July 19, 2011).

Strawberries - they are not producing fruit now, but the plants are handling the heat just fine.

Bell peppers are producing well. They turn red before they get very big, but they produce far more than we can use ourselves.

Sweet potatoes. These are doing very well. There are 4 plants in this section of the garden.

Egg plant. The fruit doesn't get very big before harvest stage, but they still produce far more than we can use.

Egg plant ready to be picked

Okra - the Summer performer. No matter how hot the weather, okra just keeps on producing. The only pest is ants, and they are a minor problem and relatively easy to control.

Sweet potato being grown in a container