August 22, 2016 by
Okra: A World Traveler
Okra’s ancient origins are rooted in southern Ethiopia. Travelling west to Europe via mass migrations and east to Asia via the spread of Islam, Okra began to dig its roots into gardens and food cultures throughout the world thousands of years ago; well before its trip across the Middle Passage to the New World. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1700s that okra hit the scene in colonial America (most notably in the port towns of Charleston and New Orleans) and served as a common thread among those enslaved and in charge of dinner. Often stewed with a mixture of onions, peppers and tomatoes, or served mixed with rice and called “Limpin’ Susan”, okra was a dinner staple during the hot summer months- as it turns out, this hardy vegetable loves the southern heat that tends to scorch its garden brethren. Due to the “slimy” mucilage substance within the actual pod, okra serves as a fabulous thickener and eventually made a splash in signature soups and stews of the South, such as Brunswick stew, Kentucky burgoo, and of course, gumbo...though it took several generations of more affluent (French) cooks to morph a simple okra soup into the thick, spicy mixture of seafood, chicken and southern vegetable we’re more familiar with.