A paleolithic monster taking over a corner of my garden is not what I was expecting when I planted my first Okra seeds. I knew what the pods looked like, but somehow all my research had failed to prepare me for what would end up being the largest plant I would grow in my garden this summer.
To be fair, I was more concerned about the word “spineless” that I saw floating around when looking at seeds, than what the plant looked like. I garden by the square foot, so space between plants is tight, I did not fancy the idea of endlessly having to work around a hazardous plant. I ended up with a a variety called Clemson Spineless (purchased here), which is advertised as one of the most popular varieties, with good reason! The pods themselves are easy to gather with the help of some trusty garden shears, and the plant is for the most part spine free. Fair warning, avoid touching the base of the pods where there are some fine needle-like spines that can pierce an unprotected finger.
Growing and Harvesting
My Okra loved the weather we had this summer here in West Virginia (Zone 6b), and continues to grow (it’s easily over six feet at this point) and produce into mid October. The seeds were planted straight into the ground after the last frost, around the 1st of May, and have required very little attention since (with the help of a drip watering system). I did have to go out almost every other day and harvest the pods once it started producing, and it has been a steady producer for several months now.
The pods grow quickly and if left unattended become very large and tough to eat. I try to cut them when they are between 4″- 8″ long. The pods keep well on the counter for a week or two once harvested, which gives me plenty of time collect enough from two plants to make a canning batch.
What Can You Do With Okra?
I was a bit hesitant to add okra to our weeknight meals because who hasn’t heard the rumors of its slimy nature? The few times I have used I can see where the slimy misnomer comes from, but I wouldn’t say I found it an unattractive quality. When used fresh the unusual texture is negligible next to the pleasant textural crunch the okra adds. When it comes to preserving there are fairly limited recipes for Okra in my canning books. There’s the Ball classic pickled okra recipe and a plain okra pressure canning recipe, but that’s about it. The Ball canning book does have a recipe which uses okra for vegan gumbo, if that is something you would like to try. You can also substitute Okra in lieu of celery when canning tomatoes to use as a tomato base.
At my friend’s request I am focusing on a pickling recipe. As with all pickling recipes, there is some lee way on what spices you can add to tailor the recipe to your tastes, but I wanted to start with the basic recipe and adjust as needed from there. I did experiment with the heat/spicy level a little by adding either a Jalapeno, a Santa fe Grande or a Habanero to separate jars.
How much does it Cost?
Although nothing can beat the quality of home grown food the reality is that everything has a price! I looked at how much it actually cost to make this recipe using Okra from my home garden.[wptb id=672] [wptb id=673]
At $5.30 per 16oz jar this is fairly comparable to most store bought brands, and much cheaper than any organic option that I found.
Recipe originally printed in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
~ 2 pounds of fresh Okra
4 Pint Jars or 2 Quart Jars
3 Cups Vinegar (5%)
3 Cups Water
1/3 Cup Pickling Salt
1 tsp Dill Seed
4 peeled garlic cloves
4 Hot peppers of choice
Pot large enough to cover jars with water by 2 inches
Canning tongs and funnel to handle hot jars
Pickled Okra can also be stored in the fridge without water bath processing. After screwing on the lids place in fridge and wait a few days and it will be ready to eat!
Preparing Your Jars:
I always start a canning session by putting a pot of water on to start heating. You need boiling water to do the actual canning portion, but as it comes to a boil you can use it to warm up the jars you’ll be using. Warming your jars before adding your hot liquid/produce reduces the risk of thermal shock and shattered glass. Per the Ball Complete book of home canning, sterilizing the jars prior use is not necessary. As long as they are clean to begin with and are being processed for at least 10 minutes you’ll be okay. I place however many jars I think I will need into my canner (for ~2 pounds of okra I needed 4 pint jars) and added hot tap water into each jar, before filling the rest of the pot up until the water is a little below the rim of the jar. If you don’t have a full load you can place a clean wash cloth under the jars to keep them from rattling and clanking around when the water boils.
Preparing the Pickling Liquid:
Grabbing a sauce pan I added the water, salt, vinegar and the dill seeds and place on the stove over medium heat. Stir occasionally to help the salt dissolve while it comes to a boil. Once it has come to a boil I reduce the heat down so it maintains a bare simmer to keep it hot while I finish preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Preparing the Okra:
After thoroughly washing my okra and discarding any discolored pods, I trim the stems as needed to help them fit into the jars. I removed the stem from my hot peppers and cut them in half leaving the seeds and set them aside with some peeled garlic.
Putting It All Together:
Remove your jars from the hot water and set on a cloth covered cutting board. I packed each of the jars firmly with the sliced okra. I try not to smash them too much, but I want a nice tight fit to prevent them floating to the top. I make add my hot pepper and clove of garlic in the top third of the jar. Leave at least 1/4 inch of space between your okra and where the lid will lay on top of the jar (also referred to as headspace).
Carefully ladle the pickling liquid into each jar.
Caution : Pickling liquid is hot, obviously, but always pour it in slowly to allow it to filter down into the jar. If you pour too fast it can bottleneck at the top and “burp” up, splattering you with hot liquid.
I fill all my jars and then bang them gently on a cloth covered cutting board and use a long thin instrument (in my case, a metal chopstick) to work out any bubbles I might see around the sides. Top up the jars to a maintain that 1/4 inch head space as needed before wiping the rim with a paper towel dipped in vinegar. Center the lids on top and then screw the metal ring to fingertip tight.
“Fingertip Tight” : Difficult to accurately describe online but to achieve fingertip type I screw on the ring until I feel slight resistance and then use the tips of my fingers to twist just a few degrees more (see below). You want a good seal but too tight will cause your lids to buckle during the water bath step.
Water Bathing Canning:
I set each of my jars, now filled, back into the hot water and make sure I have at least two inches of water covering the tops of my jars.
Bring the pot up to a solid boil. Once boiling, set a timer for 10 minutes and adjust your heat as necessary to maintain a steady boil. Once the ten minutes is up, I turn off the heat, and after a few minutes remove my jars onto a cutting board covered with a kitchen towel to cool. It can take up to 24 hours for your jars to seal, but I usually start to hear them “pop” within a few hours. After 24 hours, test your seal by pressing the center of each lid. If there is no flex in your lid, congratulations, you have just successfully jarred up your first can of hot pickled okra!