Although its exact origins are unclear, it is likely that okra is native to Africa and South Asia, with its cultivation beginning in the 12th century BC. Through the slave trade, okra came to the United States in the 1500s, where the heat- and drought-tolerant plant thrived in the region’s climate. Okra was one of a few crops that enslaved people were allowed to take to America, so it became a tool for them to keep traditional cooking and agricultural techniques alive through generations. The crop has been grown all over the Southern United States since around 1800 and it is now a common staple of Southern cuisine.
Okra’s many varieties include Cajun Delight, Silver Queen, and Emerald. However, the most popular type of okra is Clemson Spineless, which is praised for being easy to harvest and producing flavorful seed pods. Okra plants can grow up to 6 feet tall, with broad leaves and fruit that can be around 7 inches long in some cases. In the late summer, okra’s harvest season peaks and it continues until the first frost, which kills the plant.
The seed pod and seeds of okra are slimy, giving it a texture that most people either love or hate. In terms of cuisine, it can be tossed into a gumbo, eaten raw, cooked with tomatoes, or combined with a multitude of other dishes. I definitely prefer okra to be sliced, battered, and fried in oil. Growing up on a small farm with many okra plants in our garden, I have fond memories of my dad preparing okra this way and serving it with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, or some type of greens. During the summer, we would have okra many nights in a row, so I started to become tired of it, but I still enjoy a good dish of fried okra any chance I can get it.