Saturday, October 19, 2013

Red Okra

A couple of decades ago, when I could still remember what it was like to be "Northern," I made my ex-husband's family stewed squash. That was a Thursday evening. On Saturday morning, his mother taught me "how to cook." She took out a big iron skillet, a tub of shortening, and a sack of corn meal. The vegetables from her garden were stacked on the counter. We prepared everything from fried green tomatoes to fried okra. That night, alongside the venison, we had freshly fried squash.
Red Okra | Navigating Hectivity by Micki Bare
Preparing my red okra for frying was a
pleasant, non-sticky experience. 

While I loved stewed vegetables, especially with a little tomato and basil mixed in, the fried vegetables were also good. All but one. The okra she grew and I learned how to fry was green. When we sliced it up, a sticky, slimy goo emerged. Even breaded and fried to its golden crispy glory, I could not bring myself to eat the okra.

For years, I avoided okra. In the South, that's not an easy thing to do, especially during the summer and fall. Okra grows like dandelions around these parts and turns up often as a side dish, in salads, and in soups and stews.

But a couple of days ago, I was in one of my childhood mom's garden. She is the mother of one of my childhood friends; and when I was a child, you listened to and respected your friend's mom the same way you did your own. Our families spent a lot of time together in the 1970's and early 80's. But then my family moved away from New Jersey. As fate would have it, my friends parent's came to retire in the same small town in North Carolina I call home. My mom moved in with us and had an instant old friend. Recently, my childhood friend also moved to town with her kids. So, a couple of days ago, while all the kids were in school, moms and daughters got together for a lunch and shopping outing. At the end of our adventure, my other mom gave me that tour of her garden, which brings me back to my original story about okra.

Now, when she mentioned she had okra, I made a face. But she instantly replied to my pursed lips and scrunched up nose with, "Oh, it's red okra. I don't like the slimy kind. The red okra is not sticky. And it's delicious."

Red? Red okra? I walked over to the tall burgundy stalks and my other mom started picking the red okra pods. She then handed them to me and said, "We have plenty. Take these and try them."

Southern fried red okra | Navigating Hectivity by Micki Bare
This delicious red okra never
made it to the dinner table. 
For supper that night, my son wanted me to heat up the fryer and make homemade chicken strips. I hesitated at first, because the chicken was still frozen and after shopping all day, I was planning to heat up leftovers for supper. But even at 16, my child can still melt my defenses. While the chicken was thawing, I thought, why not cook up that red okra?

So, I pulled out some corn meal, sliced up the red okra, and fried it in our deep fryer. As soon as it was cool enough to taste, I popped one in my mouth. WOW! It was delicious. By the time the chicken strips were done cooking, all the okra was gone.

For decades, I assumed there was only one kind of okra. Of that gooey, slimy kind, I am not a fan. But now that I know there is a red, delicious alternative, okra has been added to my list of things I do love about being Southern. And after over 30 years in the South, I am much more Southern than I am Northern. Just ask my cousins in New York.

Micki Bare, mother of three, wife, daughter & writer is the author of Thurston T. Turtle children's books. 
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