Community gardening in Houston in the summer is limited due to the intense heat, limited variety of plants and travel plans of volunteers. Our work days tend to be under-attended and the operations committee can struggle with the watering schedule. The prospects of a vacation in the mountains is more promising than tending raised beds in August. After all, we are in the same gardening hardiness zone as Algeria, bless our sweaty little hearts. Nonetheless, the Southside Place Community Garden remains productive even during these sweltering months in the city.
What grows in Southside Place’s Zone 9 in the summer? Our most reliable and prolific plants have been okra, eggplant, melons, cucumbers and peppers but okra is always the bumper crop. Resistant to pests with stunningly beautiful flowers, okra grows at an impressive rate. It is possible that just one raised bed produces enough okra to feed the entire city. The last few summers, several neighbors have begged forgiveness for picking “too much okra,” believing that they are the only ones harvesting the pods. Of course, this can’t be true if several people are confessing the same thing. The fact is that we need more people to harvest the okra pods before they reach three inches long. Okra needs to be harvested at least every other day, so think of your harvesting as civic duty. Wear gloves because the tiny spines on the leaves and stems can irritate your skin. Cut the stem just above the pod cap with a knife. If the stem is too hard to cut, the pod is too old and should be tossed into the compost pile…not good eats. They get stringy and tough when they get longer than your middle finger. To store okra, put the uncut and uncooked pods into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer or you can pickle okra and keep it in your pantry.
Some people think that they “hate okra because it’s slimy” but I think that if you like green beans that you will like okra if it is prepared the right way. Roasting it on high heat in the oven makes for crispy okra sans slime. At the new Little Liberty restaurant in Rice Village, they cut it in half and coat it with chilies, basil and butter before “blistering” it in the oven. Sautéing okra with tomatoes and vinegar also counteracts the mucilage (the same stuff that runs out of aloe vera) of the pods. Okra also takes well to pungent Indian and Mexican spices. And who doesn’t like a pickled okra in their bloody Mary? Feel free to harvest the okra and send us your best recipe. Here’s is one below:
Okra with Tomatoes and Bacon
- 2 slices bacon
- 1 pound frozen okra, thawed and sliced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 celery, chopped
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble, and set aside.
- Remove bacon from pan and sauté okra, onion, pepper and celery until tender. Add tomatoes, and pepper and cook until tomatoes are heated through. Add salt at the end.
- Serve garnished with crumbled bacon.