As Hilda commented on a recent post, okra flowers are beautiful. I don’t see them during the week because they’re usually closed by the time I get home and pick vegetables. When I saw one blooming today, I thought I should take a couple of photos.
The fruit just behind the flower is big enough to pick. They grow quickly and become stringy if you wait too long. Pods should be picked when they are two or three inches (50 to 75 mm) long. This means you need to pick them every couple of days.
I don’t see many of our native bees and wasps visiting this flower, perhaps because it isn’t indigenous to the Americas. Okra (known as either Abelmoschus esculentus or Hibiscus esculentus) probably originated in the Sahel region in northeastern Africa. As you might guess from the second scientific name, okra is related to ornamental Hibiscus; the flowers even resemble Hibiscus flowers. It’s also related to cotton, cocoa, durian, and balsa.
The first two or three years that I grew okra, the plants grew over six feet (1.8 m) tall, but more recently they haven’t been that vigorous. These plants are not more than three feet tall, although they will continue to grow until frost kills them. Their slower growth may be due to differences in the weather, lower rates of fertilizer application (I used to grow okra with squash, which can use a lot of fertilizer), or more competition as I might be planting my garden a little more densely than I used to. Or perhaps I’m just planting them too late.
Okra can be used as a thickening agent in soups (as it is in gumbo) or really in any food that would benefit from its gooey superpower. Just wash, slice or chop, and add to whatever you’re cooking. I like to add okra to macaroni and cheese.
A Japanese recipe starts by rubbing the whole pods with salt to remove any sharp spines, washing, and boiling. After they’re tender, slice the okra into bite-sized chunks, add bonito flakes and soy sauce, and mix.