This is the first year I have grown okra. I love fried okra and remember my grandmother and my mother making it in great quantities. We popped them like peanuts, barely patient enough to wait for them to cool while they drained on paper towel-lined plates. Okra has a flavor and a texture, or textures, all its own, and I wanted this plant in my garden.
The variety I picked up in the garden center reads: Emerald Okra: Long, deep-green, ribbed pods are very tender and a favorite in Cajun-cooking. These prolific dwarf-type plants produce abundant crops. (www.ferry-morse.com)
Tender, prolific, and dwarf sounded good for my small garden.
I planted them in a raised bed on March 25, a couple of weeks before the frost-free date here in Zone 7, but I had a plastic tent for the bed in case of frost. No need to worry, as it happened. Winter was over early this spring.
I planted a couple of seeds per square foot although the recommended spacing on the package is 3 ft. between rows/18 in. between plants. Space is at a premium in my yard due to limited sun (lots of mature trees) and I like to see how close I can crowd things and still get results.
I harvested the first few pods around July 10, 107 days from planting, 49 days longer than the package’s 58 days-to-harvest specification. Okra is one of those plants that does not begin to grow strong until the weather is consistently warm, so my early planting did nothing to kick start my first okra harvest. In addition, I planted the okra too close to some bush beans, which grew very fast and shaded the little okra seedlings. Only after the beans were harvested and the plants removed (and the weather nice and hot), did the okra begin to take off.
I continue to be impressed by the okra blossoms. I tried to get a beauty shot, but this picture doesn’t do them justice. The creamy white petals and the purple throat of these trumpet-shaped flowers are a visual treat. You can see some of the pods:
I wanted an authentic, Southern recipe for Fried Okra, so I reached for my copy of Cotton Country Cooking, from the Decatur (AL) Junior Service League. First published in 1972, each recipe lists the name of the member who kindly parted with her family’s treasured favorite recipe. This one comes to us from Mrs. John E. Wilks, Jr.:
- 1 pound okra, cut in 1/2″ pieces
- 1/2 cup corn meal
- salt, to taste
- Vegetable oil
Toss okra with meal and salt until coated. Fry in 1/2 inch of oil over medium-high heat until brown and crisp. Serves 4.
Some recipes call for a dip in some sort of batter before the cornmeal breading, but I find the moisture from washing the okra and the cut edge of the okra itself is enough. In my experience, okra takes a little longer than you would think to be fully crisp and ready to eat. Be patient. It is worth it. Keep turning the little pieces until all sides are browned. Another tip, after you have tossed your pieces in the cornmeal, put them in a dry colander or sieve and give it a bit of a toss to shake off the cornmeal that isn’t well adhered to the okra. Then you won’t end up with so many burned bits of cornmeal in the bottom of your skillet, which gives the okra a scorched taste. If this happens, don’t be afraid to take a paper towel and wipe out the burnt meal and start over with some fresh oil for the next batch. Did I mention that you have to do this in batches? Only put enough okra in your skillet to cover the bottom in one layer. This helps everything to get optimally crisp. If you have a deep fryer, you might try using that, but I don’t have one so I can’t help you there.
Ready to eat:
Here are some okra growing, history, and cooking links: