Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to Preserve Okra (and other news)

We’re well into the harvest season now, and August has brought more temperate weather to our corner of NY. This has been great news for the heirloom tomatoes, as they have begun to flower again and are producing tons of new fruit with very little blossom end rot. Just last week I gave the garden its last helping of Tomato Tone for the season, and the okra responded by growing about 6 inches in just a few days. I guess someone was hungry!
View of the garden
 Speaking of okra, in one of my last posts, I wrote about the trouble with it so far: that it produced 4-5 pods at a time on a fairly regular basis, which although dependable is too little to use for much other than eating raw. Okra is one of my favorite plants in the garden. It looks cool, the flowers are pretty, it is extremely easy to grow, it’s pretty disease resistant, and it produces fairly regularly. And, of course, we love to eat it! The only issue has been that by the time we get 10-12 pods, the first few have become soft in the refrigerator, so it’s a mix of perfect and subpar. It really doesn’t keep very long in the fridge, and eating it raw isn’t really the reason I planted it.
Green okra

Red okra
Luckily, we’ve found a good solution to preserve the okra until there is a decent amount ready to use. Like many fruits and vegetables, okra freezes well. It has the additional benefit of not needing to be blanched first. In fact, blanching it tends to bring out the starch in the seeds, making it a slimy mess. Trust me, skip that step and just freeze it raw.

Begin by slicing the okra (just keep the slices about the same thickness so they freeze and cook consistently). Then, prepare it for the deep freeze. The key here is to freeze the okra the same way you would freeze fresh berries, by laying the slices flat on a sheet tray and placing them in the freezer until stiff. This results in a quick freeze, and it also keeps the slices from being crushed. That’s why this works so well for fresh berries (or anything else that is delicate and prone to crushing).

Sliced and ready for the freezer
Once the slices are frozen you can transfer them to a sealed bag for long-term storage. We like to slice the okra first, since we normally sauté it with some olive oil and herbs when we eat it for dinner. It’s also a good preparation for soups and gumbo. I’m not sure how it would freeze whole, but I don’t see much benefit in that unless you plan on cooking the pods whole.

Every few days there are 3-4 new pods ready, so I simply repeat the process and continue freezing in small batches, adding to the existing bag of frozen okra. The key to keep okra producing is to make sure to pick the pods as soon as they are ready, as they can go from 4-5 inches to 7 or 8 inches (and very tough and woody) in a day or so. I’ve noticed that as soon as I pick the plants clean of any decent sized pods they tend to flower again and produce even more heavily.

The peppers are loaded with fruit!
This fall, I look forward to a meal of homemade gumbo using this okra, accompanied by a nice glass of Sam Adams Octoberfest! Until then, we continue to enjoy the tastes of summer, which are in full swing now as the heirlooms are producing as many tomatoes as we can eat (look for a post on that very soon!)

Until next time, happy gardening!

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