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Pickled Okra, A Southern Standard

 

It’s summer time on the Texas gulf coast and, just as the northern U.S. has real winters, we have REAL summers here. We long for a cool 85oF day this time of year - a temperature that would bring other regions to their knees. Our pace slows down and so does the production in the garden. The garden goes into stasis and holds on in hopes of surviving the heat to start producing again in September or October.

The lack of rain lately, after being very wet a couple of months ago, has plunged some of the state back into drought. The heat and lack of rain have ground production to a standstill here at the ol' farm on the cement pond. For the most part, all that remains standing are the southern garden classics.

In our case, that means okra and purple hull peas. The occasional cantaloupe, tomato, cucumber or pepper is quickly sliced and eaten. The purple hull peas get shelled and frozen in a communal ziplock bag. The okra... well, okra is a bit more of a challenge.

I grew up in a southern Texas household strongly influenced by over 100 years of Texas-German farmers, infused with a Middle Eastern culinary tradition from ancestors that emigrated here in the late 1800s from Syria and settled in a backwater known as Houston. In that household, okra was presented in two ways: stewed, in the Middle Eastern style, or pickled, as it would have been on the farm in central Texas. I really liked the stewed okra over rice but never really cared for the pickled version, despite its popularity in the family.

It wasn’t until my oldest daughter and a bumper crop of okra last year that I decided to revisit pickled okra. Pickling okra is as easy as it comes, once you know what you are doing. After a couple of flops, I started producing some pretty popular pints of okra.

First, what not to do: Do not slice the okra. If you do, it will be slimy. The flavor is good but the texture may not be for everybody other than the biggest okra fans. If you slice it, you can cook it until the slime breaks down but then the okra is softer and not really suitable for pickling.

Now, what should you do? First, use small okra. Try to keep them smaller than three inches. If they are any longer than that, they get very fibrous and even woody, and they may be too long for your jars. Discard soft or brown pods. Carefully trim the stem just where the cap and stem meet - but leave the cap in place. You will not usually eat the cap, but it holds everything together and prevents the sliminess. You should also blanch them briefly, about 30-60 seconds, to tenderize them slightly and it helps them soak up the brine. On to the recipe…

Pickled Okra Recipe

This is the recipe for my first successful batch of pickled okra. It is from the Ball Complete Book Of Home Preserving1 . I have tried about a half dozen other recipes since then and will post some more down the road. Quantities are all approximate and will vary according to the amount of okra you have on hand. Keep the ratios roughly the same as your okra quantity varies. Yields 7 pints

Ingredients

• Approximately 3-1/2 pounds of okra. Trimmed and blanched (see above).
• 8 cloves garlic. Will vary according to number of pints being packed.
• 8 peppers. Sweet or hot to your taste. I used dried chile de arbol. Again, will vary according to the number of pints being packed.

Brine

• 3 cups water
• 3 cups distilled white vinegar
• 1/3 cup pickling salt
• 2 tsp dill seeds

Instructions

1. Sanitize pint jars using either a dishwasher without detergent and set on “Sanitize” or in a large pot with boiling water. They should be ready, but not cooled down, before starting step 2.

2. Combine water, vinegar, salt and dill seeds in a pot and bring to a boil to dissolve salt. Reduce heat.

3. Remove hot jars from the dishwasher or from the boiling water bath.

4. Add one clove garlic and one pepper to each jar.

5. Briefly sanitize lids in hot but not boiling water to prevent damage to rubber gasket.

6. Pack jars with trimmed and blanched okra. You will want to leave at least 1/2 inch of headspace*. Try to pack as efficiently as possible.

7. Add hot brine to each jar keeping at least 1/2 inch of headspace.

8. Wipe rims clean with a damp cloth or paper towel.

9. Apply lids and rings. Hand tighten, but do not overtighten.

10. Place jars in a boiling water bath making sure the  jars are covered with an inch of water. Cover the pot with the lid. Regain boil and process for 15 minutes.

11. After the 15 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let stand for 5 minutes.

12. Carefully remove jars from the canner to a safe surface making sure the jars do not touch each other. I use a wood cutting board. Let the jars cool overnight.

13. Check the jars to make sure they are properly sealed. The lid should be indented (concave). You can reprocess any unsealed jars using a new lid or refrigerate them and enjoy them right away.

14. Label the sealed jars and store in a cool dry space.

*Headspace is the space between the bottom of the lid and the top of the product in the jar. It is important to maintain this space during the canning process. More details as to why at a later date.

1 Kingry, J., & Devine, L. (2006). Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and creative recipes for today. (p. 316). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose.

Ed is a Biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. They recently adopted four chickens of unknown gender for the latest project. More to come on that. You can read more posts from Ed here and contact him at via email. He is always looking for new ideas and suggestions.

Photos: Jennifer Hudson


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