We are beginning to have okra. I think it is coming in earlier than usual and I hope we have plenty of it. Most of our family members really love okra -- except for my son who really, really hates it -- but that must be an anomaly. It is a staple of the southern diet.
I have rarely eaten at a "meat and three" in a southern town where one of the choices was not fried okra and fried okra is often served at our family reunions. One of my favorite vacation-spot resturants in Gulf Shores, Alabama, Lambert's, serves up dishes of fried okra as an appetizer. It is really good. I don't think people in the North have an appreciation for okra, but I think they don't know what they are missing.
Okra is from the mallow family and is a relative of cotton, cocoa and hibiscus. The flowers of the okra plant resemble a hibiscus flower and a long slender pod develops after the flower fades. These pods are often called Lady Fingers in other countries. Okra was introduced in the United States from Africa, most likely brought by slaves and has since been a favorite in the south.
Okra grows well in warm climates and is perfect for southern gardens. It can grow up to six feet in height and needs a good bit of room. We planted our okra in rows because it does tend to be a large plant. I have always planted Clemson Spineless okra because I have read it grows well in our climate, but there is a red variety that is supposed to turn green when cooked. I have never tried it.
Last year we, at first, didn't have a fence around our garden and found quickly that deer dearly love to eat okra plants. After we put up the fence, our okra did produce, but never looked as good as our okra looks this year. We are hoping to have a record crop. (Anything more than a little will be a record for us.)
Sometimes, when I pick the okra and rub up against the leaves, I break out in a mild, itchy rash that goes away as soon as I take a bath. I don't think I am allergic to it, I am just a little sensitive.
Pods should be picked while they are tender. If you wait until the pods are tough, they can be inedible and if you keep picking the pods while they are tender, you can have okra until frost.
One of the common complaints of okra-haters, like my son, is that it can be slimy. That can be true, especially if it is stewed in a little water. I think it is a texture issue and I am not bothered by okra even when stewed. I think when fried, it isn't slimy and in stews, I don't really think it is slimy. I think that the taste overcomes other objections.
We love to make a number of dishes that include okra. The first would, of course be the southern favorite, fried okra. It is simple to make. Just take sliced okra -- salt and pepper it -- then dredge it in flour. Some people like to use all-purpose, wheat flour and some a mixture of corn meal and wheat flour. I have used millet flower and that works really well. I was surprised it was good -- but happy to be able to use a gluten-free flour in my pan-fried okra. I use about a quarter cup of oil in the bottom of the pan and turn it pretty often until on medium high it is golden brown. It is more commonly deep fried, but I don't like that much oil in my okra.
Okra is great in soups and stews and I hope to have plenty of okra this year for just that purpose. I also would like to have enough okra to pickle.
At least I am not having to compete with the deer for the plants this year.