Okra Is a Southern Beauty That Won't Wilt in the Heat
Some plants wilt in the heat and humidity of a Southern summer, unable to bear the blistering sun and suffocating humidity. Others, like okra, don't just survive, but seem to revel in the weather, growing ever taller as the thermometer spikes, spreading its dark green leaves and beautifully colored blossoms. Along with tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and turnip greens, okra is an important member of the Southern foods. People love it for the many ways okra can be prepared - fried, pickled, stewed, or used in a gumbo, or they hate it because it can be slimy. With Southern cooking becoming popular across the United States, more people are exploring how to grow okra as well as different ways to cook what is often called "lady fingers".
A Super Food
Just as each fruit or vegetable is unique in what it brings to the table, okra has its own storehouse of goodness. Okra is high in folate and has an extremely powerful concentration of antioxidants. If that isn't enough, okra is a potent source of vitamin C and has a high fiber content.
What About The Slime?
One of the reasons someone may not like okra is the slime, or mucilage. This is actually a type of digestible fiber that helps the plant with water storage. Here are five cooking tips that will help with the slime issue:
Choose small pods
Wash and dry okra thoroughly
Cook okra quickly and at high heat
Overcooking okra produces more slime, so don't overcook
If you cut okra into pieces, wipe your knife on a kitchen towel periodically so you don't spread the slime.
Easy To Grow
Okra is simple to sow and grow. Seeds won't germinate in cool soil, so wait until the soil has warmed to 75°F., usually late spring in the South. Soak the large seeds in water overnight, and then sow them 1 inch deep in rows that are at least 3 feet apart. Cover and water thoroughly, giving them a deep soaking every four or five days. When seedlings are 2 inches tall, thin them to 18 inches apart. As the plants begin to flower, apply a blossom-boosting fertilizer according to label directions.
Developing pods grow quickly, as much as 1 inch a day in hot weather. Harvest regularly – pods longer than 4 inches are usually too tough to eat and, if pods are allowed to mature, the plant will stop producing. A word of advice: okra stems and some pods can be prickly, so wear a long-sleeved shirt and gloves when cutting off pods.
Okra produces until frost, but older plants need reinvigorating in late summer. Do this by cutting the tall plants back to 1 to 2 feet high, allowing side branches to form that continue producing for months. Keep picking the pods until you're ready to save seed.
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Native to Africa, okra seeds were brought to the colonies by enslaved Africans. Okra is also found in India, Southeast Asia, South America, and parts of the Caribbean. If there is sweltering heat, you can find okra.