pretty as a hibiscus – and edible, too

Okra is just as ornamental as it is tasty.  This heirloom is Fife Creek Cowhorn – tasty, prolific, and super easy to save your own seed.  Beyond an initial purchase, I’ve never had to buy any more.

Although it wouldn’t be a bad thing to buy more seed, especially since mine came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and that’s a group that deserves support.  For one thing, they are protecting our seed heritage.  For another, they’re doing it with grace, style, and integrity.  I’ve been thrilled with all the seeds I’ve ordered from them, and if you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you are so lucky, because their growing instructions and varieties are adapted specifically to your garden.  (I also find the grower’s hints wonderfully helpful, even further south.)

This summer, I finally got up the nerve to taste raw okra.  I’d heard many times before that it is a delicacy, and then I read Steve Solomon’s raving, enthusiastic commentary about raw okra in his book Gardening When It Counts (two thumbs up, but not for beginners – er, I mean the book, not the raw okra experience!)

So I went out one morning a couple of weeks ago, when the dew was still on the plants, and plucked a tiny pod, less than 2 inches long and with its fuzz still soft, not yet prickly.  I didn’t bother to wash because we’ve never sprayed the plants.

All I can say is:  yum!  Crisp, tender, slightly earthy but still light.  For those of you who confuse color with your taste buds, like I sometimes do:  palest shade of avocado green, some deep golden tints, with maybe a hint of periwinkle.  Better than okra in stew, for sure.  Maybe better than some fried okra I’ve tasted – although not my Mama’s.

Definitely better than the fried okra they serve in chain restaurants, dipped in a pure flour coating like medieval plated armor. Flour!  Ick!  The things some people will up and do in spite of all reason!

Now that I’ve tried it raw, my next experiment, since we’re having such a bumper crop this summer, is to try spicy pickled okra, a recipe from The Homesick Texan that sounded intriguing.

And while we’re on the subject of cooking with okra, I’ve picked up some useful tips over the years.  When mixing it in stews or soups, wait until 15 minutes before serving to add the former and 10 minutes or less before serving with the latter.  It makes a huge difference.  Also, use small, tender okra and clean your knife frequently with cold water when cutting.

Or you can just tell the folks who complain about it being slimy to hush up, which seems to have been the preferred method in my family.  Maybe slime builds character.

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