A bit about okra

The month of July is almost over, and before we know it school will be starting. In fact, my sister told me that Yoakum ISD schools start on the 13th of August. This seems very early to me, but I’m sure they have their reasons!
My week was fairly quiet after our church get-together last Sunday evening, except for two things. Tuesday several of the Auxiliary ladies and I met to straighten out our workshop and select fabric for some aprons. Our reversible ‘over the head’ aprons, that are made without any type of ties sold very quickly, so it’s time to make more. We cut out several and I brought them home, and plan to sew on them next week.
Wednesday our librarian had a wonderful afternoon planned for the children, with a group called “Storybook Theater” putting on a short play called “The Big Bad Wolf and Two Pigs” inside the library, a drawing for prizes for the children and then games outdoors. One of the teen aged assistants and I helped them with a horseshoe toss game, another game was the washer game and yet a third had some of them doing the limbo. It was all fun, they were really well behaved and some of the ladies on the library board were serving pizza and hot dogs to all that were in attendance. It was a great afternoon for everyone.
Part of the next couple of days, I spent at my sewing machine working on tiny garments for Threads of Love, a group I’ve told you about before. Two Auxiliary friends have been crocheting caps, booties and all sorts of things to be sent to the director and I was making the little dresses and diaper shirts that they use. We will get together Monday morning and pack everything up for mailing, and send our work on its way!
Now, let’s talk a little bit about okra. It seems to me this is a vegetable that is either well liked or hated! There has been several face book posts about okra recently, some of them touting the health benefits of eating it.
According to recent studies, a new benefit of eating this vegetable is being considered. It has been suggested that it may help manage blood sugar in type 1 and 2 and gestational diabetes.
Okra, “Abelmoschus Esculentus” is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. It is among the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable species and will tolerate even heavy clay soil. However, frost can damage it.
It belongs to the mallow family and is related to crops such as cotton, cocoa and hibiscus and is a perennial plant. It is generally thought to have originated in the Ethiopian Highlands, although the actual time of domestication occurred is not positively known. A food scholar, Jessica Harris asserts that okra is “the one vegetable absolutely emblematic of the African presence in the New World.” The story of okra’s journey to the New World is that slaves brought the seeds with them. However, it is felt that being kidnapped and sold into slavery, that it is very unlikely that this happened.
The name “okra” is most commonly used in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Philippines. A variant of the pronunciation is “okro” in Carribean English, in Nigeria. It is also known as “Lady Fingers” in the Bantu language, and has been called gumbo, ochro, bamie and also several other names. It is a popular vegetable in a large number of places and they seem to each have their own name for it. In the United States, Louisiana, it has been used for centuries as a thickening agent and also, for their iconic food: gumbo!
Also, according to the one article that I found, the seeds of okra can be dried, crushed and used as a coffee substitute.
Okra is mostly misunderstood by people, due to its slimy consistency. The best way to avoid this is by the use of a little vinegar added to the dish you’re preparing, I had never heard this until Mrs. Van Damme told me about it. Over the years, I have found that when it’s fried, it is not slimy. My preference for frying is very small okra fried whole, however, that is not always possible, because most gardeners feel that bigger is better! It isn’t, because when okra gets bigger, it gets “woody” or “pithy” and is hard to cut, chew or eat.
The vegetable is a source of potassium, vitamins B and C, folic acid and calcium. It is very low in calories and has negligible fat. Raw okra is 90% water, 2% protein and 7% carbohydrates. For more information, type “okra” into your search engine and check out all the information. I could not access their recipes, so the ones below are from my own files.
This vegetable can be eaten raw, and it can be cooked many, many different ways, probably with gumbo or fried being the most popular. My family and I like pickled okra and some of us would can it each year to enjoy. My favorite way to enjoy it is fried and when I get chicken at our local fried chicken vendor, I always ask for okra instead of fried potatoes.
Okra Gumbo
1 to 1½ pounds fresh okra
5 thin sliced bacon (2 or 3 slices if you buy thick sliced)
3/4 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
1 can (16-oz size) tomatoes
1 to 2 ears fresh corn
1 tablespoon vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash okra, cut off stem ends and then cut into ½ to ¾ -inch slices. Set aside. Clean the corn and slice from the cob, set aside. Slice the bacon crosswise into small pieces and fry until crispy, remove bacon from pan and pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the drippings, stir the cut okra into the drippings and cook and stir until it changes color. Add the onions and peppers and cook and stir another 5 minutes; then add the corn and tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid is gone.
If desired, you may add cooked sliced sausage or cleaned and deveined shrimp. If using the shrimp, add them the last 4 or 5 minutes of cooking, as they will cook quickly. Okra gumbo is another of those dishes that probably has as many variations as there cooks to make it, and yes, I have added different types of meat to it, including sausage and shrimp!
Pickled Okra
5 to 7 Pint sized canning jars
Okra (medium size is best, about 2 to 2½-inches in length)
1 quart vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup canning salt
Fresh dill for each jar or 1 teaspoon dill seed per pint of okra
1 clove of garlic for each jar
Hot peppers if desired
Pinch of alum for each jar (about 1/8 tsp.)
If using fresh dill, wash and place one head in each jar. Wash okra (if it has a long stem from where it was taken off the plant, it is ok to cut it off shorter, just don’t cut into the okra), and fit tightly into clean pint jars, add garlic and alum to top of jar. Bring vinegar, water and salt to a boil and pour liquid over okra in jars. Seal jars with lids and process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Turn heat off and allow jars to set in water for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from pot and cool. Okra will be ready to eat in about 2 to 4 weeks. (The vinegar/water/salt solution is enough for about 5 to 7 pints).
Here is a cookie recipe you might want to try with your children before school starts back up!
Cake Mix Cookies
1 box cake mix (any flavor)
1/2 of an 8-ounce carton whipped topping (thawed)
1 egg
Break egg into bowl and beat with a fork to mix it up. Using a knife or a rubber spatula, divide the carton of whipped topping in half and dump into the bowl. Add the box of dry cake mix. It will be a very stiff dough. Roll into balls the size of walnuts and then roll them in powdered sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 350ºF until done. (Approximately time for baking is 12 to 15 minutes).
Chocolate cake mix works really well, especially with the addition of about 1/2 cup chocolate chips or about 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if desired.