Okra is one of those garden-yield items that inspires a loathe/love relationship.
To begin with, it doesn't yield itself up easily. Unlike tomatoes, cucumbers, or peaches that you simply gently pluck from the stalk with a slight flick of the wrist, okra must be cut (read that "sawed") away with a knife, which means that the picker must arrive at the garden "armed" if okra is desired.
The okra leaves are itchy, so hot summer days (the only time okra presents itself to be picked) make communing with the okra plant an often-unpleasant experience. Even when you wear gloves, you can hardly wait to get inside to wash off your arms.
Then, this stereotypically Southern plant, putting it bluntly, is gooey and slimy when it's first sliced. Many people don't get beyond that fact. Slimy okra gumbo is one recipe option when okra is an ingredient. It's not the only option by any means, but the slithery texture makes a permanent impression on those already suspicious of this vegetable. I love what Wikipedia says about okra: some cooks prefer to "minimize" its characteristic "sliminess."
On the "love" side, if properly prepared, okra wins kids' kudos early on. Both my children always selected fried okra, with an inch of crispy breading, of course, above just about anything else for their "sides"--one way to get veggies down the younger set, even if it is fried in an inch of grease.
Our last "love" okra crop was in the summer of 2005. I acquired more okra recipes than I have hairs on my head (definitely more recipes than the hairs on my hubby's head.) My recipe for Grandma's Fried Okra, which hubby found on the Internet but said it was a replica of his mother's, was added to my collection that summer.
The year 2005 started off good, but soon we had so much okra growing, we couldn't cut it fast enough. Then when we cut it, we couldn't eat it fast enough or even give it away to friends and neighbors. One neighbor, rather impolitely, asked us not to offer any "more" since he was overwhelmed with our generosity. The uncut okra then went to seed and continued to produce more plants; six-foot-tall vines soon took over.
My husband refused to plant any okra in the summer of 2006 and even pulled up stalks that rose from seeds left over from the previous year.
Summer of 2007 was Texas' memorable monsoon year. All crops washed out, including our prize peach trees (more about that in my next blog). The following summer we didn't even try, because our soil was leached out so badly from the '07 floods. Last year we planted okra, but none grew. By then we were regretting not having okra around. We vowed that 2010 would be "the" year again.
If our first "picking" is any indication, this year, indeed, okra is our new best friend. Last night's meal featuring Grandma's Fried Okra, which also uses potatoes, green peppers and onions, was memorable indeed. After that I've got recipes for Sauteed Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes and Okra Creole, both from my new Way Back in the Country Garden cookbook, waiting in the wings.
The ubiquitous challenge: picking ("sawing") and using it the minute it becomes ripe, which means frequent trips to that sticky corner of the garden. The payoff: falling in "love" with okra all over again.
Grandma's Fried Okra
Okra (about 20 pods)
3 medium potatoes (could be mix of redskin and Irish potatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/4 cup olive oil
Slice okra into 1-inch rounds. Chop potatoes into small cubes. Chop onions and green peppers until fine. Dust okra in corn meal. In skillet fry okra in hot olive oil until okra is brown. Add potatoes, onions, and green pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender. (May need to cover skillet with lid until vegetables cook.) Remove lid. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook with lid removed until vegetables crispen up.