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Facts About Growing Okra and Recipes from our Latest Grow and Graze Event

 

Botanically speaking, okra is a member of the mallow family. Looking deeper into the Malvaceaes, we learn that it shares family ties with cotton, cocoa, balsa wood, hibiscus and durian fruit. Ancient cultivation of okra can be traced back to East Africa, West Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Its arrival in America is documented as one of Africa’s major crops that were brought to the United States on slave ships. Okra probably landed in the US through the ports of Charleston and New Orleans in the 1700s.

Varieties:

The USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) yields 1,099 accessions, most unnamed.

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources in New Delhi claims over 4,000 accessions. 

Okra comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes: fat and thin pods, long and short pods and all sorts of variations in between. Colors vary from Burgundy, Red River, Louisiana Green Velvet, Emerald, Silver Queen, White Velvet and Jing Orange to Hill Country Red.

Tips:

Okra prefers a pH of around 6.5 and performs well in soils that are rich with organic matter.  Full sun is required. For best results, soak seeds for a few hours up to overnight. Plant okra seed 3” to 4” apart, thinning to 12”. For summer crops sow seeds in April and May. For a fall harvest, plant in late July to early August.

After the first harvest, remove the lower leaves to help speed up production. 

When shopping for okra, look for small bright green or red pods with no browning or discoloration, especially at the tips. Okra should be firm to the touch with no signs of limpness. Plan to use within a day or two or it will lose its texture and may even turn moldy. 

Interesting facts:

Okra will produce large flowers about two months after planting. The okra pods will be ready to pick three-to-four days later.

India is the largest producer of okra in the world. 

Okra leaves are incredibly nutritious. However, they need to be cooked as you would spinach or collard greens. Young leaves can be fried.

Okra plants are stunning and can be grown for their landscaping aesthetics alone, especially the red-stemmed varieties. We are currently growing both red and green varieties in the edible landscape at Raincatcher’s for this purpose. It’s something we hope to continue in 2020.

Following the program, guests were treated to a corn and okra flavor-filled lunch menu. Enjoy the photos and recipes from this delicious experience hosted by the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. 

Our final ‘Grow and Graze’ event of 2019…Pumpkins on Parade and Sweet Potatoes for Adornment will be October 22nd.

Sign up will begin on September 24th. Ticket sales for our last event sold out in a few hours so mark your calendars now….

 

Warm Okra and Red Onion Salad with Pine Nuts

Ingredients

½ cup pine nuts

1 ½ tablespoons coconut oil (divided use)

½ red onion, thinly sliced

¾ pound okra, halved lengthwise

½ teaspoon kosher salt (divided use)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint

Directions

Toast pine nuts: Heat oven to 400˚F. Place the pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, shaking every 2 minutes. Remove from the oven when golden. 

Place ½ tablespoon of coconut oil into a large cast iron or nonstick pan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the onions and set aside. 

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and increase temperature to medium-high. Once the pan is hot, add half of the okra and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Sauté for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the okra and add to the onions. 

Add the second batch of okra to the pan (add a bit more coconut oil if the pan is dry). Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onions and okra back into the pan. Stir to combine. 

Add the Worcestershire and vinegar to the pan. Cook on medium-high until the liquid is reduced by half. 

Remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, basil, mint and toasted pine nuts. Stir well to combine. Salt to taste and serve immediately. 

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

Fried Okra with Pickle Aioli

Ingredients

Pickle Aioli

½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chopped dill pickles, plus 2 tablespoons pickle juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Okra

Vegetable oil, for frying

1 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup yellow cornmeal

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

Kosher salt

1 pound okra, halved lengthwise

Directions

To make the pickle aioli: In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, pickles, pickle juice, dill and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

To make the okra: In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 inches of the oil to 350˚F over medium-high heat. Alternatively, heat the oil to 350˚F in a deep fryer following the manufacturer’s directions. Line a large plate with paper towels. 

While the oil is heating, whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, Old Bay and 1 tablespoon salt. 

Add the okra to the buttermilk mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to the flour mixture and toss to thoroughly coat. 

When the oil is hot, remove the okra from the flour mixture, shaking off any excess, and fry the okra in two batches until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the prepared plate and season lightly with salt. Repeat with the remaining okra. 

Serve hot with the pickle aioli.

Yield: Serves 4

Fresh Okra Muffins

Ingredients

2 cups self-rising cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon hot sauce

2 cups thinly sliced fresh okra (about ½ pound)

¼ cup chopped onion

Directions

Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl; make a well in center of mixture.  Combine milk and next 4 ingredients; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.  Fold in okra and onion.

Grease muffin pans, and place in a 400˚F oven for 5 minutes.  Quickly spoon batter into prepared pans, filling two-thirds full; bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pans immediately.

Yield:  1 ½ dozen.

Linda Alexander

Pollinator Friendly

August 10, 2019

Pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bats, birds,   and wasps are the basis of a healthy ecosystem. They allow plants to reproduce and those plants provide us with countless varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  I have read that one in every three bites of food lands on your plate because of the work of these pollinators.

With that in mind, look at your garden in a new way. How are you providing for the pollinators who make your life happen?

Here are some of the plants we are growing with that purpose.

Above: Zexmenia hispida

Above: Rudibeckia fulgida and Gregg’s Mist Flower

Above: Tithonia rotundifolia or Mexican Sunflower in front of a 5 foot hedge of Lantana ‘Miss Huff’

Above: The delicate blossoms of the Desert Willow provide nectar

Above: Datura-an interesting flower that blooms at night and attracts the sphinx moth

Above: Pink Skullcap

On the right side of the page under Raincatcher’s Resources, take a look at the list of butterfly and hummingbird plants for more information.

Ann Lamb

 

Kale’s Misfortune

August 6, 2019

We had grandiose plans; to indulge and savor, to be nourished and satisfied. Our beautifully designed spring kale bed promised countless ways to enjoy this luscious, leafy green. An imaginative plan was developed using five different varieties of kale. Our centrally located statuary garden would be transformed into graceful spirals of translucent whites to radiant pinks. Concentric circles of the lovely Scarlet Kale with her delicious frilly, red curled leaves gently ushered in sassy little Dwarf Siberian Kale, a very hardy and productive Russian variety.

Above: Scarlet Kale

Red Russian, poetically referred to as the peacock of the kale family, adorned our bed with its striking red leaf stalks and delicate purple veins running through silver green leaves. But it was the visually stunning blue-green hues of Blue Curled Scotch that completed the rich and vibrant look of our 2019 Ombre theme. Or, so we hoped.

Above: Blue Curled Scotch Kale

As spring rains gave way to the warm days of summer, we were increasingly pleased with our Brassicaceae family reunion. And then quite suddenly, Mother Nature spoke to us. Her language was somewhat stern and unforgiving. She reminded us that our visit had come too soon. While family gatherings are happy, joyful occasions filled with laughter and sweet memories, a time of separation is sometimes needed before a return.

Shamefully, we had not listened. Members of the same family had previously made a visit to our garden. Two other times to be exact. We should have known better than to include them a third time. Was it the unwelcomed pests harboring in the soil who were waiting for the right moment to “crash” our party? Or, had the lovely cabbage white butterfly swooped down from above to deposit her eggs on the underside of a leaf? Either way, our mistake had encouraged, even invited the destruction to begin. As the tiny little green worms emerged, along with them came a voracious appetite. A simple appetizer wasn’t going to satisfy, they had come for a feast.

After only a few short weeks of devastation, our bed of dreams began to resemble an alien invasion. The chomping and nibbling had wiped us out. Except for one indulgent over-eater, the lacy remnants of frass (aka, solid excreta of insects) was all that remained of our beautiful kale crop. The cross-stripped caterpillar showed no mercy, he was victorious in winning the battle.

Kale Bed in early July after the cabbage worm attack

Moving forward, we’ve learned a lesson the hard way. Instructions for the next family reunion will be respectfully observed.

  1. Members of the same family, in this case…Brassicaceae…won’t meet again for three years.
  2. Rotating plant families is important for managing pests and soil fertility in the garden.
  3. To improve the fertility status of garden soil, members of other families such as Fabaceae, the legume family, can be grown to add nitrogen to the soil.

Should nutrient-rich kale make a future visit, we hope to enjoy her delicious charms.

Linda Alexander

Pictures courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Refer to Caterpillar Alert, Who’s Eating our Kale?


2 Fantastic Classes, Learn, Learn, Learn at our Garden!

Everyone Welcome, no reservations required.

Tomorrow: Wednesday, August 7, 10am, Shade Gardening

Friday, August 23, 10am Texas Plant Tales Class

Balsamic Blooms Basil is a Superstar

I’m infatuated with this new basil, so I asked Linda to write about it-Ann.

Above: Balsamic Blooms Basil

 

Our first encounter with Balsamic Blooms Basil was in April of 2018. While the designation Texas Superstar® caught our attention, it was the beautiful deep purple blooms that we found most intriguing. We were smitten. Thankfully, we were able to locate six plants at a local garden center and then used them to create a border for our newly established hügelkultur bed.

People couldn’t stop talking about the “new plants” in our garden. As they continued to grow throughout the spring and into summer, everyone became more intrigued. A quick explanation convinced them that this was a plant worthy of adding to the home garden.

Balsamic Blooms Basil was named a 2017 Texas Superstar plant by AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturalists after three years of field trials around the state. To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not only be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout the state. Texas Superstars must be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but also reasonably priced.

Balsamic Blooms is truly is a game changer. It is the first basil to have flowers and leaves growing at the same time. You’ll be tempted not to harvest those long-lasting, gorgeous purple blooms, content just to admire their beauty. But you shouldn’t miss the delightful mint flavor of the tender young flowers chopped and sprinkled over a summer salad. The sweet flavor of the foliage may be used for a delicious pesto or other culinary uses.

We were so pleased with last year’s performance that for 2019, Balsamic Blooms took center stage in our ombre basil bed at Raincatcher’s Garden. Once again, it has thrilled visitors to the garden who don’t leave without asking about this lovely herb.

As with most basils, plant in a sunny area in well drained soil. It has a mounding growth habit reaching 18-24” and is a great addition for either the edible garden or landscape.

Linda Alexander

 

 

Crushing Heat

How do  you beat the heat in summer? What are your tactics? We asked several Master Gardeners and this is what they said.

Above: Starla gives a pictoral  reminder for all of us

Susan Swinson says: Long sleeves and pants for the mosquitoes. I like the fabric in hiking pants. It’s pretty cool and wicks moisture. Hat and sunglasses of course and towel for mopping up. Enormous insulated glass of iced tea with a lid that I keep in the shade. If I’m working in the backyard I rig up a big fan with extension cord.

Lisa Centala: A hat and sunscreen are the first wave of defense! One way I stay cool is to drape a wet, cold cloth around my neck. I keep a couple to change them out and roll some ice in the towel if it’s really hot.

Jim Dempsey: Never go out into the heat without a good wide brim hat.

Jon Maxwell: In the Texas summer heat, “you have to start early and end early!
Its not just the plants that need water, remember to drink plenty when out in the summer garden, and not just when you feel thirsty!

Cindy Bicking: I try to get out early in the morning and get “finished” for the day by 10 a.m. If  I have a lot to do, I keep to the shaded areas as much as possible.  I also set a timer for 15-20 minutes and then go inside for about the same amount of time.  That’s when I drink my water.  Also, try to wear a hat. If it’s dry enough, I mow in the morning while it is cool.  Otherwise, I wait until just before dark.  Use bug repellent.

Also, I sometimes wander about for a few minutes and pull weeds, trim a littler here and there.

Dallas Garden Buzz Readers, please give us your heat crushing advice in the comment section.
Ann Lamb

 

Grow and Graze August 27th Sign-Up

Corn, the Golden Essence of Summer and Okra, A Garden Giant-GROW AND GRAZE AUGUST 27TH

Corn’s versatility is endless, lending a festive look to almost any dish. Discover the delectable potential of this simple vegetable. Savor its natural sweetness in a menu packed with everything from delicious openers to breads, chowders and desserts.

Okra is best described by award-winning chef, Michael W. Twitty, as “a globetrotter that dances so well with tomatoes, onions and corn that nobody remembers a time when the four did not carouse the kitchens of the Afro Atlantic world in search of lusty steam and the heat of a hot chili pepper looking to dance, too.” 

Tuesday, August 27th

A “Grow and Graze” Event Hosted by Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills

10:00 – 11:00am * 11001 Midway Road * Church Sanctuary

Panel Discussion Led by Raincatcher’s Dallas County Master Gardener Vegetable Experts

(Master Gardeners earn up to two CEUs)

Immediately following the program please join us in the Community Hall for a Picnic-style Lunch

11:15 – 12:30

$15 per person, Reserved seating for 60, Tickets on sale July 24th, 10am, Deadline August 20th

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/corn-the-golden-essence-of-summer-and-okra-a-garden-giant-tickets-65175370287

Menu

Santa Fe Corn Soup Garnished with Fresh Oregano, Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

Fried Okra Pods with Pickle Aioli

Fresh Corn Cakes with Heirloom Tomato Relish and Tarragon Crème Fraiche

Warm Okra and Red Onion Salad with Pine Nuts

Esquites: Mexican Street Corn Salad Cups

Breadbasket Sampler: Cheddar Dill Cornbread, Corn & Jalapeno Muffins, Fresh Okra Muffins

Sweet Corn and Hazelnut Crunch Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blackberry Verbena Sauce

Linda Alexander

All members of the public invited for lunch with a reservation or just come for the free lecture. Reservations thru the eventbrite link above open at 10am, Wednesday, July 24th.

Thai Basil Sorbet, a Cool Taste of Summer

Thai Basil Sorbet

When one mentions ‘basil’, immediately people think of Italian-type basil – the Genovese variety that is used for pesto and caprese salad.  Thai basil, if it’s thought about at all, is best known as a garnish in the popular Vietnamese soup pho.

But with its spicy licorice and lemon notes, this cousin of mint works well in desserts, too.  Any variety of Thai basil can be used – we have both Persian and Cardinal cultivars in the Edible Landscape and both worked equally well.

An ice cream maker does its magic by keeping the ice crystals small while they’re being created.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker or aren’t in the mood for sorbet, there are other ways you can enjoy this syrup.  You can make a granita or popsicle if you still want an icy treat, or simply take the syrup you’ve made and pour it over a white cake, brownies, or even the olive oil semolina cake from our Grow and Graze event – it’ll infuse the cake with a lovely extra layer of flavor!

Above: Cool and refreshing Thai Basil Sorbet

The recipe below makes about a pint of sorbet – feel free to multiply it and make more.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups water

1 cup sugar (192 g)

1 cup basil (leaves and/or blossoms) (about 55 g)

2 Tablespoons corn syrup*

2 Tablespoon lime juice

*The corn syrup is to keep the sorbet from becoming a popsicle without making the sorbet too sweet.  The alternative to the corn syrup would be a tablespoon of vodka (or rum).  If you’re not making sorbet, but the granite, popsicle, or syrup, you don’t need the corn syrup (or vodka or rum).

METHOD for SORBET:

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the corn syrup and lime juice.

Spin it in your ice cream maker using the manufacturer’s instructions, then put in the freezer to finish hardening off.

METHOD for GRANITA:

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the lime juice.  Don’t use the corn syrup.

Place the syrup in a shallow pan (metal is good, but something it would be okay to scratch with a fork, or use a plastic container) in the freezer for about a half hour.  Pull it out and with a fork, scrape the frozen portions into large flakes.  Return to the freezer and repeat 2-3 times or until the whole thing is a bunch of frozen flakes.  Cover, and store in freezer until ready to serve.  When you go to serve, use that fork again to make sure you’ve got flakes!

METHOD for POPSICLES:

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the lime juice.  Don’t use the corn syrup.

Pour into popsicle molds and freeze!  This is a pretty intense way to enjoy the basil flavor – I’d suggest adding some berries to the mold and have a berry basil popsicle.

METHOD for SYRUP (over cakes, brownies, etc.):

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the lime juice.  You don’t need the corn syrup for this use, but it won’t hurt your final product, either.

The Edible Landscape Team

Pictures by Starla Willis

 

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