Fancy growing a few containers of mini eggplants out on your patio? With regular water and a mix of sunshine and shade they should flourish. But how do you know when they’re ripe?
You can harvest your patio eggplants when they are 2-3 inches long and their skin is a glossy, rich purple color. If you squeeze the skin it should spring back firmly when ripe, leaving no marks from your fingers. If there’s no give to the skin then your patio eggplants are not ripe.
Let’s look at the harvesting of patio eggplant in more detail – when they’re ready to pick, how to pick them and also how to store them.
How Do You Tell if An Eggplant is Ripe?
How can you tell when your patio eggplant is ripe and ready for cooking? There are a few ways to check whether an eggplant is ready to be turned into a delicious ratatouille or baba ganoush.
An eggplant will taste at its best if it’s picked and cooked just as it ripens. So, it’s important to harvest yours at just the right moment. Under ripe fruits can be rather bitter, and too-mature eggplants are both less pleasant to eat and prone to mold. Here’s how to spot the perfect eggplant.
Take a look at the fruit. Is the skin glossy and a rich color? Give it a gentle squeeze. When you release the pressure, the skin should bounce back with no marks from your fingers. If there’s no give to the skin, it’s not quite ready. If indentations remain, it’s probably past its best (although provided it’s not too overripe, it should still be OK in a slow-cooked casserole dish).
How Big Should Patio Eggplant Be Before You Pick Them?
This really depends on the type of patio eggplant you’ve chosen, and check the label of your plant to find out how big your fruits will grow. Most patio varieties are smaller than the ones you see in stores, and baby eggplants grow to just 2 or 3 inches. These cute baby eggplants, also called Indian eggplants, are like cute little balls, small and round.
Chefs will advise you to pick eggplants when they’re small. Most cultivars are edible at less than half of their potential size (even just a third), and they taste their best at around two thirds of their fully grown size. This is provided they are ripe and have passed the skin indentation test, of course.
The advantage of picking eggplants when they’re young is that the plant will start to put out more fruits, and existing eggplants will thrive better if they’re not on an overcrowded plant. By drawing out your harvesting season, you’ll have a long supply of delicious, fresh eggplants for your larder.
How Do I Pick An Eggplant?
Eggplants are more delicate than they look and need careful harvesting. Wear gloves to protect your hands against the slightly prickly stem and calyx, and also against the vine, which could irritate your skin. The best tool for picking eggplants is a pair of pruning shears.
Hold the eggplant in one hand, and simply snip off the stalk with the shears in your other hand. Try not to pull or twist or you could damage the plant. Make the cut above the calyx, which you leave on the fruit.
Like all plants, there are eggplant diseases to watch out for. A good way of preventing diseases spreading among plants is to make sure your pruning shears are clean and sterilized before and after you harvest your eggplants. To be extra careful, soak your shears in a 50/50 solution of isopropyl alcohol and water for a few minutes, and then let them air dry.
Why is My Eggplant Yellow Instead of Purple?
Firstly, check the specific variety of eggplant. Not all of them are purple, and you’ll find orange, white, green and even striped varieties. If you’ve inherited your plant, you could be in for a real surprise when the fruit ripens…
If you do have an exotic variety such as a paler-skinned fruit, a yellow tone can be a sign that it’s overripe. A simple way to tell whether this is the case is to compare larger and smaller fruits on your plant: if the older and bigger ones have a yellow tone and the younger ones don’t, it’s a sign of overripeness, and you’ll need to make sure you harvest the younger ones earlier.
But what if your eggplants should be purple, and their skin is turning a yellowish color? It might not be a disease: your plant may be suffering from sunburn. Young fruits exposed to too much UV develop yellow spots, which could even color the whole skin. If you think this could be the case, move the plant to a less sunny spot.
Yellow leaves can indicate a bigger problem. This could be a sign that the plant is lacking in nitrogen, and you’ll need to do a soil test to see if that’s the case. If it is, switch to a balancing fertiliser to address this.
If you see yellow circles on the leaves, it’s possible your plant has a virus, and because you don’t want this to spread to other plants, the diseased plant will have to go.
Will Eggplant Ripen Off The Vine?
Eggplants don’t keep ripening after they’re picked, and they will start to develop a spongy texture after a few days. Leave them on the plant until you’re ready to eat them, and make the most of having delicious, fresh food growing on your patio.
Of course, the problem arises if you see that your eggplants are ready to pick, but you aren’t ready to eat them. They can be stored for a few days if you absolutely have to harvest them to prevent them from going overripe, and at least they won’t keep ripening.
Our favourite solution is you have a glut of eggplants ripening all at once is to pick them, then batch cook something you can freeze. We’ve already mentioned ratatouille, which is a great staple to keep in your freezer, or make a roasted eggplant curry. This way, you’ve picked the fruit when it’s at its best, and you can eat it whenever you’re ready.
Should Eggplant Be Refrigerated After Picking?
We’ve just discussed how good some eggplant dishes are to freeze; however, the whole, uncooked fruit is less tolerant of cooler temperatures. Home chefs disagree on this one: some say you can pop your harvested fruit in the refrigerator for a few days, others say simply don’t ever chill your eggplant.
At Take A Yard, we tend to go with storing ours in a cool, dry place that isn’t the refrigerator. Find a dark spot like a pantry or cupboard, and don’t keep it next to ethylene-producing fruits like apples, bananas and avocados. These fruits speed up the ripening process in others, and your eggplant won’t last as long.
If you really need to refrigerate an eggplant (and in warmer climates, it’s harder to find a cool, dry spot in the kitchen), place it in a separate bag and just store it in there for just a day or two.
Another rule is never store sliced eggplant or half a fruit, as that certainly won’t keep. If you have more than you need, cook a larger portion of the dish and freeze some, or chop it up and add it to the compost pile.
Knowing what to look for when harvesting your patio eggplant is crucial if you want them to be perfectly ripe.
Just make sure they have a rich, glossy purple color – are 2-3 inches long – and spring back to shape with no marks left when you give them a gentle squeeze.
Store them in a cool, dry place away from other vegetables when harvested, and you can look forward to some delicious mini eggplants to enjoy with family and friends.
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >