Harvesting eggplants at the right time is important if you want to get the best, tastiest vegetables from your garden. Eggplants are edible and ready for harvest even when immature, though the fruits are smaller. Once eggplants are overripe, they get tough and bitter. One of the best tips for harvesting eggplants is to catch them when they are slightly immature by feeling the flesh for ripeness. Wearing gloves while harvesting also can prevent injury.
Eggplants are ready for harvest when the flesh is soft but resilient. When pressed while still attached to the plant, the flesh should give slightly under pressure but then quickly return to its former shape. Immature eggplants have hard flesh that does not give under pressure, while the flesh of overripe eggplants does not spring back to its original shape.
It's important when harvesting eggplants to look out for sharp spines present on some cultivated varieties. One of the best tips when harvesting eggplants is to wear heavy gloves. The woody stalk where the eggplant fruit attaches to the plant can be covered with prickly spines. A sharp knife can help to cut through the hard stem. A section of stem 1/2-inch (1.27-cm) long should be left at the top of the eggplant when separating the fruit from the plant for harvest.
Once eggplants reach maturity, they can remain on the plant for a few weeks before they get overripe. Once overripe, the seeds inside turn brown and the flesh takes on a woody texture. Developing eggplants can be harvested and eaten any time after they have reached one-third their final size. Once mature, the skin on the eggplant takes on a shiny appearance. Many eggplant varieties are purple, but some are pale purple and white, so color development is not always a reliable means of observing ripeness.
Once harvested, eggplants bruise easily. The fruit should be held while it is severed from the plant so it doesn't fall. After harvesting eggplants, they should be carefully placed in a basket or box. They can be stored in the refrigerator for one or two days.
Eggplants soak up a lot of oil when pan-fried, because they are fleshy and filled with water. A way to reduce the amount of oil absorbed by the flesh is to slice it, rub it in salt and then let it sit for an hour or so before cooking. After rinsing the excess salt off, the eggplant slices can be fried, boiled, steamed, sauteed or added to soups and other dishes.