Okra: Historical, Versatile

first_imgOkra shines in the garden.You’ve probably seen pictures of Hawaiian girls with large hibiscus blossoms tuckedbehind their ears. Well, okra blossoms aren’t quite as showy as those, but they’re in thehibiscus family.They’re among the most beautiful blooms in the vegetable garden, too. They’re ivory tocreamy yellow with deep reddish-purple throats.They bloom for only a day. By sundown, okra flowers are wilted, whether or not they’vebeen pollinated.If it’s sunny and good bee-buzzing weather, you’ll see tiny okra pods underneath thewilted flowers. Not all will be pollinated, but since okra will blossom for a long time,you should get a sizeable harvest.Asia — central to southern, to the best of my research — gave us okra. It grows wildin the upper Nile region, too, and was used in northern Africa for centuries. In fact,okra is an African word.Trading ships brought okra to this country, and it quickly found favor as a crop and aningredient in French and Creole cooking in Louisiana.Okra is a tasty, important ingredient in many foods, especially Creole dishes.I would never think of making shrimp gumbo without adding okra about 30 minutes beforeserving. Gumbo, from the word “gombo,” means okra, a natural thickener for soupsand stews.Okra is often stewed with tomatoes, deep-fried, pickled, boiled or steamed and servedwith butter, as well as eaten raw, fresh from the garden.Some folks don’t like the gummy quality okra has when it’s boiled or steamed. It seemsmore popular when combined with other vegetables, fried or pickled.I’ve made coffee out of okra seeds. Just let some pods ripen on the plant, collect theseeds when the pod ribs have opened, and roast and grind the seeds.Perk this “coffee,” using more of the ground okra than you would regularcoffee. Although I’ll never see “Okra Java” at a trendy coffee house, whoknows….For history buffs, okra coffee was used during the Late Unpleasantness with the Northwhen blockades were in place and coffee wasn’t available. W.N. White, in Gardening forthe South (1858), said, “I think it is not very likely to supersede.”Still other people take advantage of the versatile okra by grinding the dried seeds andmixing them with cornmeal to make bread.Because okra grows best in hot climates, it’s one of those vegetables considered a”Southern” crop. It is true that the southern parts of our country have thelong, hot growing seasons okra needs to bear really well, but you can grow it anywhere.Because okra can’t tolerate frost and doesn’t like cool weather, north Georgia yieldsmay not be as high as from plants grown farther south. But you can make up for that bysimply growing a few extra plants.Some gardeners prefer to either buy transplants or start their own indoors to plantoutside when the weather and ground have warmed enough.Okra has a reputation for being hard to transplant. It has a very long tap root, andwhen it’s broken, the plant doesn’t recover.Most gardeners sow their okra seeds right in the ground at the proper time. The propertime is after the soil is warm. Really warm. Okra will just sit there and may rot in coldsoils. Remember — it is tropical.But if you want to, and are willing to take a little extra care of the long tap, youcan successfully transplant okra.All your efforts can be ruined by “damping off,” a fungus disease thatattacks emerging seedlings, if you don’t take steps to prevent it.To prevent damping off, treat seeds with a fungicide you can buy at a garden supplystore. Follow the directions on the package.last_img

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