NFI Ingredients: Pickled Okra!

September 24, 2010

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News Recipes

This fall, NFI volunteers’ cupboards have been bursting with what’s been growing out of our plot at the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden. With the particularly bountiful okra harvest, I decided to use it as an opportunity to explore the production side of one of my favorite types of foods – pickles!

While somehow “pickle” has come to refer primarily to pickled cucumbers, it turns out that you can pretty much pickle any vegetable you want. Pickling is one of many processes of fermentation, processes that, overall, encourage growth of “good” microorganisms in a food, while preventing growth of those that cause spoilage.

Pickling, which has been used as a technique for food preservation for over 5,000 years, involves soaking vegetables in a salt brine. The acidity of the brine prevents harmful bacteria from growing, and the fermentation produces lactic acid, giving the vegetable a salty or sour taste and a softer texture. Sounds good to me – let’s get started!

Grandma’s Pickled Okra (someone else’s Grandma – I found this at allrecpies.com)

3 pint-sized jars
1 1/2 pounds fresh okra
1 clove garlic
3 tsp red pepper flakes (or if you have chili peppers, you could probably add those instead)
3 teaspoons dried dill
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons salt

Step one: Sterilizing jars

There are many different ways to sterilize your jars. For me, bringing a large pot of water to a boil and placing the jars in the water for 10 minutes or so was the easiest, though some sources say its fine just to run the jars in the dishwasher. I started the water first, to give the water plenty of time to come to a boil while I was preparing the other ingredients.

Step two: Prepare the Veggies & brine

Wash your okra and garlic. You may have to cut some of your okra in half to fit in the pint jars. Then, in a small saucepan, combine the water, vinegar and salt. Bring to a rolling boil.

Step three: Assemble and Seal!

To prevent any sort of last minute contamination, I removed the jars from the hot water just as the brine was just about ready to go. Stuff the okra & garlic into the jars and then add the red pepper flakes and dill. Pour the boiling brine over them, leaving 1/2 – 1/4 inch headspace. Place the lids onto the jars and screw them on tight! (on one of my jars, I screwed on the lid slightly crooked and the brine leaked into the hot water bath) Return the jars to the hot water bath for 10 minutes to finish the seal.

Different recipes have specific recommendations as to how long the jars should spend in the boiling water based on the ingredients, but the most important this is to make sure the jar is sealed.

Check the center of the lid over the course of the first day – if it pops back when you press in (like a jar of jelly from the grocery story after you open it) it’s not sealed properly. If so, all is not lost – you can still place it in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage and he pickling process will still produce a tasty result. You should also keep your jars in the refrigerator once you open them.

Pickled okra is generally ready 2-3 days, though others have said its better to leave them in for weeks to allow the fermentation to more fully do its work. The above recipe can be altered and tweaked for your own tastes, though because the acidity is an important part of ensuring safe preservation, most sources recommend sticking to ratios of vinegar and water provided in recipes.

Let me know if you have any advice or experiences with pickling to share!

Other resources:
-Another recipe for dill pickled okra
-Are pickles healthy?
-General resources on canning and pickling.

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