From the Farmer

Week 17 – 9/3/2013

Change Is In the Air

Mostly humidity, though.  But we’re seeing a marked slowdown in some summer crops (not unusual) – summer squash is waning, cherry tomatoes, melons.  At the same time other crops are on the ascent, including okra, peppers and, soon, fall crops.

Oh, and school is starting.  That’s change, right?  That says “Comfort Food” to me.  So this week we bring you: Stuff to Fry.  That’s right: okra and jalapeno peppers (not too hot!).  Bread them and drop them in oil.  Everything in moderation.

Okra is a sweet crop.  We’re also growing its cousin, Roselle, in trial beds but until it proves itself to be cooler we’re still talking about okra.  Some people call it lady’s fingers or gumbo, and it is popular here in the South, in West Africa, on the Indian subcontinent and in the Middle East.  Related to cotton, cocoa and hibiscus, it becomes a tall plant with large, castor bean-like leaves and hibiscus family flowers.  We eat the seed pod when it’s young.  I’ve heard you can eat the flowers but I’m happy just looking at them while picking.  They have large, soft yellow petals with a scarlet center, the kind you might want to see in your girlfriend’s or wife’s hair.  Thus it is also an aphrodisiac.  Okra flowers would make a great tattoo.  It will remind you of your honeymoon in Hawaii.

Okra has an interesting history.  Some people dispute its West African ancestry, saying it originated in South Asia, but it’s unclear just what its parents are.  We know it was eaten by the Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries.  Wherever it came from, it’s an adventurous veggie, hanging out in travelers’ pockets and cook tents and travelling the Silk Road between points Asia and Africa.  It sailed on slave ships to Brazil, Suriname, the Caribbean, and the Southeast United States.  Imagine taking one of these trips, stopping by force or by choice and building a new home.  The seeds in your pocket become your first garden plants, you then save the seeds from those first crops, trade them to neighbors and travelers for their own seeds, and next thing you know a few centuries have gone by and we find okra in different shapes and sizes in markets, gumbo joints and CSA boxes in India, Bengal, Ethiopia, West Africa and Louisiana.

The coolest thing about okra is for you farming geeks.  In Niger farmers create a polyculture that includes veggies, fruit, trees, and shrubs.  Planted all at once and rotated over years, they plant yams, cassava, bananas and plantain, corn, okra, pumpkins and melons, then fruit, nut and timber trees.  We’re talking over sixty species; when the annuals have senesced the fruit begin to be ready to harvest.  Not unlike the forest gardens of the pre-Columbus Americas.  This is some seriously cool agriculture and one we might develop in North America someday. 

We grow several varieties of okra, two green and two red.  If you haven’t had red okra before you’re in for a treat: they are tender and productive and I’m not sure why anyone grows it green.  We generally pick okra small, the size of a finger.  Sometimes a few get away from us and grow larger – these are usually for the worms but we find that the reds stay tender even as they get a little larger.  More okra for the frying.  Okra is a very healthy: it is high in fiber (especially the slimy stuff, which is high in soluble fiber), vitamin C, folate and antioxidants, and it is a good source of calcium and potassium. 

Let’s face it, okra has a certain sliminess to it and that’s just fact.  Some of us love it, some of us hate it, but there are ways to cook okra to maximize or minimize the gooeyness.  Frying or stir-frying whole pods will minimize.  You can also slice it and cook it for a long time, like you would if you make gumbo.  Many people put okra in soups, in part to thicken it.  Sliced up you can add it to anything, or use it as a side stir-fried in toasted sesame oil and topped with sesame seeds.  I’m thinking this week I might try baking it, but my favorite is still coating with cornmeal or flour and frying.  Try our recipe for Fried Okra with North African Mayo.

Tomatoes are all you can eat: it is unclear if we’ll have enough for canning but we’ll put everything we have out on a table next to your shares at the Farm Stand, please take as you like.

Coming Events: Fall Farm Day, Main Street Agriculture, Taste of Willowsford

Saturday, September 21st: we are sponsoring and attending Loudoun Main Street Agriculture in Leesburg.  Come visit us there if you’re heading that way post-Farm Stand!

Sunday, September 22nd: Farm Field Day and Potluck, 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM.

Come mark the fall equinox at the farm.  There will be activities for kids, activities for adults, food, tours and… goats and chickens.  The event is potluck – bring a dish.  Please let us know if you plan to attend, how many (adults and kids) and what kind of dish you expect to bring (main course, side dish, dessert, drinks, etc).

Saturday, October 5th: Taste of Willowsford

Taste of Willowsford will be at the Greens this year, and we will be packing up the farm stand and going with it.  There will be food, music, more food, and maybe more food!

Be well and be great,

Mike

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