Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Still Harvesting Okra

October has been very dry so far. It hasn't rained since late September. We've had sunny, clear days with very low humidity, which means it gets chilly at night. Feels nice to me, but I think it's slowed down the growth of my plants. I think most plants prefer things warm and wet, not cool and dry (but cool and dry is still better than hot and dry).

But the okra keeps going! This past weekend I tried making some pickled okra, but I don't think it went too well. It's hard to pick okra at just the right stage. The pods grow very quickly, and in order to have good pickled okra, they have to be pretty small. At least they need to not be too long to fit in the jars.

I ended up with enough okra to loosely fill three jars (you can see they were loosely filled by how much they floated up when the liquid was added). I cheated a little with some of them, trimming off the pointy tips, though I think okra pods are supposed to be pickled whole. I'm afraid slicing into them will allow slime to escape into the pickle brine and cause weirdness somehow. I guess the only way to know for sure is to taste them after they've sat a bit.

Another weird thing is that I'm growing a red variety of okra (Bowling Red from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), and the red seems to have "bled" out into the pickle brine, leaving the pods green. I didn't expect them to keep their vibrant, pretty color through the pickling process (most red and purple vegetables, like purple green beans for example, turn green or at least fade when cooked), but I wasn't expecting pink pickle juice.

However, most of my okra was much too long to fit in the jars at all. I guess I could have put them in quart jars instead of pints, but the other reason you want small pods is because they're the most tender. The only cooking these pods got was the ten minutes they spent getting sealed. I ended up with a lot more pods that were too big for pickling but still tender enough to cook, so I sliced and froze them.

I just spread the sliced okra out on parchment on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. I put them into containers after they were frozen. This is supposed to keep them from sticking together, but I bet some of them will stick together anyway. I didn't blanch them or anything like that since I thought that was just asking for slime. It's not that I don't like okra slime, but the slime still must be managed, especially if you're messing with your okra a lot (forcing them to go through traumas like slicing and freezing and pickling).

I did get some pods that were too far gone even for this. It's amazing how an okra pod can go from tiny to woody so fast. It also seems to vary with individual pods, so I can't really say, "they're good when under X inches" or something like that. I've sliced into some long ones that seemed fine, and others that were shorter and were hard when I tried to slice them (those go into the compost... I found out from personal experience that hardened okra doesn't get soft again with cooking). Basically, if the knife goes through with no resistance, it's good. If the pod goes "CRUNCH" when the knife comes down, and I have to use any effort to cut through, it's no good anymore. I'm not sure what makes some pods harden before others. It probably has to do with environmental conditions when the pod was growing. Since it's so dry out there, I wouldn't be surprised if the plants are stressed, and the pods are getting tough quicker than normal.

Another frustrating thing about okra is that it gets a few pods at a time. In order to save up enough for a full canning batch, I'd have to be out there picking small okra pods every day for a long time, maybe long enough that the first few I picked are moldy before I have enough (okra doesn't have a long fridge life after picking). One solution is to have more plants, so I have more pods at any one time, but that also means more okra overall. Maybe there's some other trick I can figure out.

My plants are still producing, but I think I'm done with pickling okra for this year. I'll see how my three experimental jars do first. Maybe next year I should try a different variety for canning, something that has shorter, green pods. As for the rest of this year's harvest, I might try drying some and see how those turn out. I wonder how well dehydrated okra will rehydrate for use in gumbo or curry.

UPDATE: These okra pickles didn't turn out good. Slicing the ends off made a lot of slime ooze out into the pickling liquid. It looks like it's completely necessary to use okra that's short enough to fit in the jars whole.

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