Veggie harvesting brings the fruit of your labors to the kitchen. Some ripe veggies can be left in the garden for a day or even a week past “picking prime”: cucumbers, jalapenos, peppers, tomatoes (for the most part), and even zucchini (if you don’t mind bigger seeds). But one vegetable, I’m convinced, grows so quickly that you can barely turn your back on a not-quite-big-enough pod. If you leave an almost-there okra pod overnight, you’ll come back to a mammoth okra in the morning. Maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but it certainly feels like I could stare at them and see them growing.
This jewel of southern gardens comes in spined and spineless varieties, and since I can rarely find my garden gloves when they’re needed, I opt for the spineless varieties. In fact for the past few years I have grown Clemson Spineless okra with great success. Our plants are five-feet tall now and still growing. Last year they topped out around seven feet, and I had to bend them down to cut the pods off.
So, how do you know if an okra pod is ready to be harvested (or chosen from the bin at your local farmers’ market)? Well, there are a few rules of thumb (or finger, if you prefer):
- Look for pods no longer than your pointer finger. I realize we all have different sized hands and fingers, so if you know that your digits are larger than average, go with the pinkie. 2-3 inches in length is a great size for a tender pod (not including the stem).
- Beware the crunchy okra. I’m not talking about fried (who doesn’t love crispy fried okra!?), but you do want to avoid overly large okra that are tough when gently squeezed. You can usually hear a faint crunch sound if you press them; this tells you the pod has become tough and “woody.”
- Tough cutter. When harvesting, if you find that a pod’s stem is tough to cut off, then the pod itself is likely too tough to eat. Usually a “tough cutter” is a large pod as well.
Harvesting okra with a good pair of pruning shears is easy as pie (or crispy fried okra). If you happen to grow the spined variety, then be sure to also have on your favorite pair of gardening gloves. Tender okra are delicious straight out of the garden, split in half, with a little bit of salt, or you can cook them in a variety of ways.
While fried okra is number one in my husband’s opinion (this buttermilk and cornmeal battered recipe is our favorite), I’ve also been experimenting with oven roasted okra. It’s lighter and quicker to prep on a busy weeknight, so I’ll be passing that recipe along next week. Thanks to Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison, I’ve also been using frozen okra in smoothies as a thickener… who would have thought!?
I’d love to know if you’re growing some okra and your favorite way to prepare them. Happy Gardening!