Trials of an Aubergine Addict

Photo: Margaret Richards
Photo: Margaret Richards

So the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’ is really with us; early mornings and evenings have a definite chill; some of the migrant birds have already started on their long flight north to their breeding grounds in Siberia and Russia; a number of human swallows are still with us, but now that the Equinox has passed, no doubt they too will soon be heading north.

And, at long last, the aubergines (or brinjals or eggplants) that I have been battling with all summer have started producing beautiful glossy, purple, egg-shaped fruit. This delicious vegetable, which originated in India and Burma, was brought to Europe in the 1500s and soon became incorporated into Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking.

According to my latest gardening guru, Jane Griffiths, of Jane’s Delicious Garden: how to grow organic vegetables and herbs in South Africa, aubergines are easy to grow, like full sun and a long warm growing season. We certainly had that this summer. But, for some reason, all summer the flowers fell off without developing into fruit. After doing some investigating on the internet I discovered that it is only the bottom flower in any group that sets the fruit as it is hermaphroditic, while all the other flowers in the group are male and serve only as pollen donors. Following Jane’s instructions, the young plants had been planted in rich soil, fed and watered regularly, with mulch around their roots and a stockade of marigolds to protect them from voracious beetles. I had managed to prevent cutworms from munching the young seedlings by sticking in a sprig of Wilde als (African wormwood/Artemesia afra) next to each seedling. This is another of Jane’s tips, which succeeded in protecting the seedlings from sun, cutworms and insects. But I had no luck in encouraging the plants to produce groups of flowers – until a couple of weeks ago, just as I had decided to pull them out and fling them onto the compost heap, first one flower managed to cling on and slowly started forming fruit and then another followed suit.

Now there are actually five aubergines forming and I am busy consulting my favourite cookery books for a special aubergine dish to celebrate! Any suggestions?

Text: Leonie Twentyman-Jones