What’s in Season?
By Barbara Kobsar
Paintings by Celia Wedding
Late summer is when the eggplants, along with their nightshade sisters, the peppers and tomatoes, come to market all dressed up in vivid colors and scrumptious flavors.
While the French and the British commonly refer to any and all eggplants as aubergines, Australians call them eggfruit, and in West Africa the eggplant is often called garden egg. Some varieties of eggplant are, in fact, small, white, and shaped like an egg.
If you stop by the Lucero Farms stand at the Berkeley, Oakland Grand Lake, and Oakland Temescal farmers markets this season (or join the Lucero CSA program), you’ll find a full array of organic vegetables and among them a wide variety of heirloom eggplants. Look for the long, glossy, light green Louisiana and teardrop-shaped Rosa Bianca, which offer outstanding flavor, or the Zebra eggplant, which is a real showoff, its striking deep grape-purple skin streaked with white laser lines. Other beauties that might make an appearance at Lucero include Dancer, Long Asian Eggplant, Thai Green, and the sweet, delicate Clara.
Family owned and operated, the Lucero Farms are located in Lodi, where the warm climate is especially conducive to growing eggplants. Ben Lucero, his wife Karen, son Curtis, and daughter-in-law Priscilla take great pride in the diversity and sustainability of their operations, as well as in their long professional experience. Ben Lucero started out as a field hand and set up his first organic farm in the 1960s, well before farmers markets became popular. Due to his determination he eventually found success with the model of selling directly to consumers. The family’s organic practices include employing compost, drip irrigation, and crop rotation to prevent depletion of minerals, and using beneficial insects instead of pesticides to keep nature in balance. It all leads to star status for their produce at the markets.
In my kitchen the eggplant must be at its absolute best for cooking. I have found none of the Lucero eggplants to be bitter, and they’ve never needed the common salting to rid them of excess moisture. Each variety has its virtues but each is dense, creamy-textured, and tasty, providing a nice creamy base for dishes like moussaka and ratatouille. Eggplant is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s meat” or “poor man’s caviar,” and is the perfect fit for vegetable lasagna.
Eggplant needs cooking; any method does the trick. Grilling is simple—brush ½-inch-thick slices with olive oil and an herb, such as mint, marjoram or savory, and grill on both sides until tender. To roast, cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, place it cut side down in a lightly oiled pan and bake at 400º for about 25 to 30 minutes. To fry eggplant, dip slices in beaten egg, then cornmeal or flour, and cook on each side at medium high heat until brown.
Despite their sturdy appearance, eggplants are quite delicate and susceptible to bruising. Handle with care and use them as soon as possible after purchase, or store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Enjoy and see you at the farmers markets!
Barbara Kobsar is a home economist and 20-year veteran journalist who promotes the enjoyment of in-season produce. She has also authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. When not roaming the produce aisles she is at her farmers market stand selling Cottage Kitchen jams and pepper jellies she makes from farmers market produce. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org