Finally, I’ve achieved success with okra!
Mention okra to an Italian and they’ll look perplexed. Even here in the bounty of the Riviera dei Fiori, okra is pretty much unknown. And many Italians aren’t super adventurous when it comes to venturing outside the known ingredients in Italian cuisine. Add to that okra’s famous and sometimes off-putting viscosity for thickening stews and gumbos, and it can be an uphill challenge. Still, maybe I’ll make a few converts.
When I say “finally,” I’m referring to two summer of dismal success trying to grow okra in the hills of Umbria. My harvest? Two measly okra pods and plants that never took off. I attribute the failed efforts to the rather cool and rainy May and early Junes in both of those years. Plus, finding full sun for enough hours in the day became almost impossible. If you don’t know and understand okra, it thrives in super-hot climates, which is why you’ll find it a mainstay in Indian and many African cuisines. Yours truly grew up in the deep south of the States, and one of my favorite dishes growing up was okra rolled in cornmeal and fried. My mouth waters thinking about it. Then I discovered it in Low Country dishes (with origins in African cooking) stewed with tomatoes and grits and sprinkled with bacon, and in numerous Creole dishes.
So, I was bound and determined to reverse my previous failures and I did my studies on how to achieve success growing okra. After all, if a guy can’t grow okra in the Riviera dei Fiori, it can’t be grown in Italy. The crucial piece of information that I gathered was not attempting to grow okra until the soil remains warm enough at night. Otherwise, the seeds just won’t take off. I tried a batch of seeds in late April. Too early. My second batch was in late May and the seedlings were in the ground mid-June. Sure enough, when the heat really set in, the plants started responding. Several of my okra plants (nine in total) are flowering and putting out pods. Woohoo! Now, comes the vigilance of keeping them watered (they’re thirsty plants) and, like the cukes, harvesting the pods at the right moment before they become too long and fibery.
The okra harvest is now picking up stride. I’ve had enough to make a nice medley of sautéed veggies from my garden, thanks to the climate here in the Riviera dei Fiori.