The Okra Is Doing Fine But The Swiss Chard Isn’t Much

by: Marlene email

Purple Okra -- Delicious and Nutritious

Like many  folks on the Shore,  we love a  garden,  be it small or large.   But it seems  like there is never enough time to plan and plant  in the middle of everything else that is always going on.  Our entire garden,  this year and most other years,  got put in late.  Because  the Eastern Shore of  Virginia has a very moderate climate and Northampton County, at its southern tip,  has exceptionally sandy loam soils,  a lot of  folks  here  plant a wide variety of vegetables —  beginning with cool type crops in early Spring,  ending with fall cabbage, collards and  broccoli,  etc.  which can  winter over in the ground.  Because of  the Shore’s  moderate climate,  we can have a garden for all seasons and who doesn’t  like  something fresh-picked all year round ?   We usually get organized too late for early lettuce, etc. and  this year we were later than usual.  So now, almost August,   it’s too hot for the  swiss chard which is finally the right size, what’s left of it.   But  the okra plants are  coming right on along but are still too puny  to really be cranking out the amount we need to give some away to friends who like it but don’t grow it and to fix a  “good mess”  for ourselves.  

I’m originally from the North  so it took me a while to get used to the fact that  on Virginia’s Eastern Shore,  a large pot or pan  of certain foods is  usually referred to as  ” a mess”   i.e.,  for dinner tonight I’m going to cook  a mess of greens  (collards, kale, mustards, etc) ,  or a mess of beans  ( green, lima, butter, etc.)  or,  of course,  a mess of okra.    If you have never grown okra,  it is a very striking plant — we always grow the purple variety,  which looks even more dramatic.  (The stalks are a deep, deep  purple and the pods are purple as well,  until they are cooked, when they turn green like their cousins.)  About 5 to 6 feet tall at maturity,  okra  really stands out in a garden,  towering over everybody else,  master of  its domain.  The okra pods are a little prickly and,  for simplicity,  I always cut them off with a scissors,  leaving a short stem at the end because for us,  okra is a finger food.

Of course,  once you harvest  the okra,  for the very best flavor,  it  should be cooked within a day.  Washing okra is a pain  because circling  the top of  each pod are little floppy things ( reminds  me of hangnails)  which need  to be removed while washing,  a bit time-consuming.  There are of course a myriad of ways to cook okra but only one way is  acceptable to me.   I’m not big on slime and that includes  slightly slimy okra.  In my opinion,  when okra is cooked in the more traditional ways, stewed with tomatoes for example  or added to a gumbo,  it gets a bit slimy. Not for me,  not at all !   But I do love the flavor of  fresh okra.  So,  to keep the flavor and cut the slime,  I  fry it.  Now a lot of people cut okra into pieces, roll it in cornmeal and deep- fry it and I’ve eaten some mighty good deep- fried okra, crispy-crunchy.   But, as Vinnie from Brooklyn asked the Alabama  short order cook  just as he was about to fry Vinnie’s  eggs in a lake of  Crisco,  “Youse guys down here ever heard of the on-going cholesterol problem in the country  ? ”  (from one of my favorite comic movies,  “My Cousin Vinnie”,  starring Joe Pesci  in his best performance,  ever ).  

Unfortunately (or fortunately, however ones sees it),   we have  heard of the on-going cholesterol problem at my house so we don’t usually deep- fry,  not even to get crispy-crunchy cornmeal- battered okra.  Which leaves my favorite way to fix okra.  Heat a little olive oil  in a saute pan till hot,  throw in the okra and pan fry,  uncovered,  over medium heat.  It’s important to keep turning  frequently until done,  which takes a while .  ” Done”  is when it has turned almost black,   (not burned,  just looking black,  trust me here),  black and shriveled looking.   Because that is the secret– the dry heat dehydrates the okra,  evaporating the slimy feel,  leaving only delicious, nutritious okra which you then devour,  picking up each pod  by the little stem you left when harvesting it.   Thank heavens the okra is doing fine because just writing this blog post made me want to cook up a mess for dinner tonight.

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