A Fairy Tale (Eggplant) with a Happily Ever After

With its miniature form and gorgeous violet-and-white skin, fairy tale eggplant is just as dreamy as it sounds.

But there’s even more to this specialty variety than meets the eye. It’s also incredibly fruitful and resilient, two big wins for farmers (and we mean that quite literally: the seed has brought home an All-America Selections vegetable award). As for the cooks? Fairy tale offers a delicious, delicate flavor and delightfully creamy bite. Plus, this palm-sized eggplant is a breeze to prep for sautés, stir-fries, grilled dishes and more.

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Of course, all eggplant is a culinary high point of summertime. In its advance from its native South Asia, this nightshade (a relative of potatoes, tomatoes and peppers) has inspired a number of classics. For instance, there’s cheesy, saucy eggplant parm, in which it’s sliced and breaded. In creamy baba ghanoush, it’s puréed and combined with lemon and tahini. And it gets along beautifully with a medley of other seasonal veggies in ratatouille.

Italian eggplant is the most familiar variety, but there are many others worthy of our attention, like raja, graffiti and—drumroll, please—fairy tale.

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Now, we don’t like to play favorites, but there’s a reason that fairy tale eggplant is so special to us. Once upon a time, we wanted to send our customers fairy tale for a recipe collaboration with Michael Anthony, executive chef of New York City’s Gramercy Tavern. So, as usual, we turned to small, local farms. But when it came time to deliver, the reality hit us: practically overnight, Blue Apron’s customer base had outgrown the farmers’ markets. There simply wasn’t enough fairy tale ready for harvest.

In the end, we got our hands on a different eggplant, and the recipe—Pan-Seared Chicken Thighs with Roasted Baby Zebra Eggplants & Fennel Salad—was a mouth-watering success. Still, though, we wanted a happy ending for our fairy tale. We realized then that we needed a bigger, better approach.

Enter the Farm Partnerships and Innovation team, a small group dedicated to bringing in a vast quantity of specialty fruits and vegetables. (Think around 1.8 million fairy tale eggplants alone in just one season.) What’s more, they’re doing it in a way that you might not expect—because nobody has done it quite like this before.

Blue Apron’s new crop planning model is the brainchild of Dr. Alison Grantham, the farm team’s agroecologist (an expert in the ecological processes involved in agriculture). Now, instead of hunting down the specialty crops that we want to send, we start with the farmers: what do they want to grow? And, more importantly—considering factors like biodiversity and the long-term health of the soil—what can and should they grow?

From here, Grantham develops a master plan for the ingredient, laying out all the nitty-gritty details: planting and harvest dates, sizes and weights, expected yields and much more. As she, the farm team’s managers and the farmers all roll up their sleeves, our culinary gurus, like chefs at the best farm-to-table restaurants, get working on delicious recipes to showcase the forthcoming fruits (and vegetables) of our collective labor.

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An undertaking of this magnitude starts off well before a specialty crop shows up on your doorstep. And varieties like fairy tale eggplant—which have never been grown on such a large scale—require even more time, care and resources. This is why direct, personal relationships with smaller farms are at the heart of what we do.

Take California’s Say Hay, one of eight countrywide farms that are growing fairy tale eggplant for us this summer. Chris Hay, Say Hay’s co-founder (along with his mother), has been working closely with Grantham and our farm team’s West Coast manager, who are even preparing to install a weather station on the farm. This way, down the road, we’ll know more definitively what temperatures fairy tale likes best—another piece of the puzzle.

“Since they’re so deeply invested in the crop, Blue Apron is able and willing to take on the whole thing,” says Hay. (On his farm, that should come to about 25,000 pounds.) “It gives us peace of mind to know that what we’re putting into the ground already has a home. That’s a huge deal.”

Thanks to this assurance, Say Hay can focus on growing and leave the rest to us. And focus on growing they do—with an incredible, intricate web of practices that restore vitality to the land. The certified organic farm uses chickens to stimulate the soil, for instance, and native bees to pollinate the crops.

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Such an achievement will bring us that much closer to a better food system, one in which everybody can access a dazzling range of farm-fresh, diverse and unique produce. And that means a happy ending for eaters, growers, the environment and—not least of all—our fairy tale.

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