Southerners love pickles.
Maybe it’s the vinegar we crave to balance out our sweet tea intake, but put a vegetable in a brine, and we’re happy. It’s not just cucumbers either, we’ll pickle green beans, watermelon rind, tomatoes, peaches and collard green stems.
Pickling extends the shelf life of food at a low pH to inhibit bacteria. When you have excess from the garden and want to help feed your family through winter, you pickle.
I have memories of walking onto my grandmother’s back porch and being greeted by bookcases full of home canned jars, pickles included. Bread and butter pickles confused me, since they contain neither one of their namesakes, but the South is a complicated place.
My pickling objectives are to avoid a sweltering kitchen filled pots of boiling water, and to not unwittingly kill off my friends from bacteria growth. I like quick pickling. This is pickling vegetables in vinegar and salt and storing in the fridge. The vegetables won’t have the same deep flavor as fermented pickles, but they are easy, quick and the chances of poisoning yourself are slim.
I love pickled okra. I see folks make a face when I say okra. It’s not a joyful face. It’s a horrified “good Lord, it’s mucilaginous” face. OK, nobody says that, but people do feel weary.
Okra cultivation can be traced back to the 12th century B.C. in western Africa. It arrived in North America during the start of the slave trade. Okra was one of the few crops slaves were able to bring from their communities in Africa.
In the South, okra is as plentiful as kudzu. You can find it at every market for around $1 a pound. Last week I saw okra at the Astoria Sunday Market and was delighted, until I saw it was $4.99 a pound.
I wondered if Tibetan monks had personally blessed each okra leading to a momentous surcharge. Truth is that okra loves heat and is difficult to grow on the North Coast. Honestly, I would have bought it at almost any price. Reliving childhood memories can be pricy, although I never imagined a vegetable would be included in that category.
Pickled okra is perfect to serve with a Bloody Mary or on a charcuterie board. I like them straight out of the jar, with a glass of sweet tea. You know, to balance things out.
Spicy Pickled Okra
Yields two pint-sized canning jars. Use green beans in place of okra if you must. Be sure the vegetables are completely covered with the brine before you screw on the lids.
• 1 lb. okra
• Two fat garlic cloves, peeled
• One or two serrano or jalapeño peppers,
• 2 cups distilled white vinegar
• Two bay leaves
• Three sprigs fresh thyme
• 2 tsp. yellow mustard seed
• 1 tsp. turmeric (or Cajun seasoning)
• 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
• 1 tbsp. plus 1½ tsp. kosher salt
Add the okra, garlic and chiles to the pristinely clean pint canning jars.
In a small pot, add the vinegar, thyme, mustard seed, turmeric, peppercorns and salt. Set over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the salt. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and immediately pour enough to cover the okra in the jar.
Screw the lid on tightly and let the liquid cool to room temperature, then refrigerate the jar for at least 48 hours before eating. The okra will keep sealed and refrigerated for several months.
Brian Medford is the owner of Idlewild Biscuits and Bakes in Astoria. He teaches cooking classes at The Pantry in Seattle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.