Show of hands here, y'all. How many of you have actually EATEN an okra? Fried, boiled, pickled, stewed, curried, whatever? How much do you really know about the okra?
'Cause lemme tell you people, Nana, Bean and I had an eye-opening experience yesterday at the local farmers' market that clued us in to the desperate need for a bit of, shall we say, a horticultural awakening among mid-Western farmers when it comes to that pod-a-licious wonderplant, the Hibiscus esculentus (le okra).
As we happily jounced across the countryside in the morning on our way to the market, the conversation turned, as it is wont to do when two or more of the women in my family convene, to our favorite subject, food. More specifically, What's for supper tonight? Already on the menu were barbecued chicken, twice-baked potatoes, and the sweet corn and sliced damaters we'd be buying at the market. Wonder if there'll any okra there today... pondered Nana. And my little heart skipped a beat. My mom fries a mean okra. I began to contemplate with relish the addition of a little of the crunchy goodness to our burgeoning dinner menu. Ooooooooooooh!, I salivated, I do hope there will be some!
With such a delightfully tasty prize in our sights, you can imagine how quickly and perkily we carried our little capri-panted selves past the first few stands at the market, peering expectantly beyond the potatoes and zucchinis and onions in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the unmistakeable, unique form of our favorite fuzzy vegetable. We barely even registered the sweet corn and damaters aplenty as more booths went by with not an okra pod in sight. Not good, my friends. Not good.
Dispirited but not defeated, I tramped over to the next booth, screwed up my best Why whatevah-do-you-mean-"You're not from around here, are you dear?" look, stared the farmer directly in the eyes and asked, "Ahem. Doesn't anyone here grow okra?"
The farmer attempted to smooth down a broad smile of what may have been incredulousness, but it stuck somewhere just north of benign pity and would fade no further. "Ah, no... No not really. I haven't seen anyone growing okra around here. I don't think the weather's hot enough up here for okra." I nodded as if I knew just what she meant and had been testing her all along. Inside, though, my heart sunk. Nana busied herself gathering up Bean to disguise her own awkward sigh of disappointment. And then...
From out of the silent, uncomfortable void came the voice of an angel. "Did you say okra? You're looking for okra? I was looking for it too and guess what?" WHAT! WHAT! WHAT! my heart thumped out rapidly. "A lady has some okra at the booth around the corner over there! I was so excited! I've had to have my Mom ship it to me from Oklahoma... I love okra and you can never find it up here!"
OH WE WERE SO EXCITED!!! We hot-footed our way around that corner after thanking the angel profusely. We were GOING. TO. GET. US. SUMMA. THAT. OKRA! Yes, ma'am!
Rounding the corner at a trot we stared keen-eyed at the array of vegetables before us, scanning each basket with careful discrimination. Okra?! No, peppers. Okra?! No, sugar snap peas. Okra?! No, tiny little cucumbers.
"May-GAN!" I was snapped from my visual veggie ransacking by my mother's voice beckoning my name.
"You don't want their okra..." she murmured under her breath and behind a hand.
And in the back of the vendor's van sat a basket of the biggest, meanest looking okra I've ever lain eyes on. Must have been seven inches long, this stuff. And as big around as a pickling cucumber. This okra was 3 times the size okra should be allowed to reach. This okra? Was RURNT. (Ruined, I mean.)
Now, we are Southern women. We do not take seven-inch okra lightly. (We do not take ANYTHING lightly.) We become appalled. There was tsking and gasping and fanning and hand-over-my-heart for I believe I have the vap-uhs and may swoon-ing. And then, after the initial shock of this... this... this... embarrassment to okrahood began to loosen its grip on our tongues, the hushed Southern-woman clucking commenced.
It'd be tough as shoe leather! Tsk. Like chewing on your own toenails! Tsk. They must not know a THING about okra. Tsk. Should we say something? Is there a kind way to explain the gravity of their error? Gasp. Don't STARE, she'll get her feelings hurt! Tsk. And I so wanted okra tonight. Sigh.
We recovered in time to enjoy a delicious dinner. We'd had all day to resign ourselves to the okralessness. But you better believe that both husbands got an earful about this Total Disgrace to Okra when we returned to The Manor after our marketing, and were duly wide-eyed at our tale.
Welcome to Chicago. What? No, OPRAH... The Home of OPRAH, dear.