A Brief History of Lady’s Fingers
No this week’s market update is not on human anatomy, rather an incredibly healthy vegetable that some believe originated in Abyssinia region of Africa – present day Ethiopia. What I’m talking about is the garden plant with the beautiful pale yellow flowers and long green (or red) ridged seed pods you and I know as Okra. Okra gets its common name Lady’s Fingers because of those long shapely seed pods.
The Bantu peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa call this flowering plant (ki)ngombo and some believe it is from these origins that we get the associated word gumbo. In Spanish okra is quibombo, in French gombo, in India bhindi and in Arab and eastern Mediterranean countries it is known as bamies. One of the first known historical mentions of Okra is from a Spanish Moore visiting Egypt in the 12th century where he saw it under cultivation.
Speaking of lady’s fingers, history or legend (I’m not sure which) has it that the beautiful Yang Guifei of China and the renown Cleopatra of Egypt were partial to this healthful vegetable. After you learn the amazing nutritional benefits of okra you understand why.
Okra’s scientific name is Abelmoschus esculentus or Hibiscus esculentus and is a flowering plant in the Mallow family like hibiscus, hollyhocks, and cotton. Okra is a rather hearty plant that is drought tolerant and typically produces its seed pods until the first frost. While the plant itself is not high maintenance, its seed pods mature rather quickly and must be pick within days of flower pollination. Typically you need to pick Okra every other day in order for the pods to be edible and not disagreeably fibrous.
On the nutritional side of things okra really shines. It is a good source of C, A, and B complex vitamins as well as flavonoid anti-oxidants like xanthin, lutein, and beta-carotenes. In fact, it is one of the vegetables with the highest levels of these nutrients. Okra also contains some iron and calcium and is packed with soluble fiber. Oh and that mucilage — the slimy goo some find distasteful — some nutritionists claim it binds with cholesterol and bile acid carrying toxins to help remove them from your body.
One of okra’s most renowned characteristics, besides its long green ridged and tapered seed pods is the mucilaginous nature of its seed pod flesh. Once cut and exposed to water or cooked, Okra produces a slimy goo that is high in soluble fiber and excellent for thickening soups or stews. In our house I put three or four regular size okra in our morning smoothie and it keeps the smoothie from separating. Friendly warning – too much okra in your smoothie and it’s like trying to drink jello. Very difficult and yucky!
For those looking to add a little bit of healthy garnish to your salad, take some young okra and cut it across the pod and you’ll have nice little star shaped decorations for your salad. As long as your salad is not wet the mucilage is not really noticeable. Speaking of salad, okra leaves can be eaten raw like other salad greens or they can be cooked as well. And finally, don’t fret if you miss harvesting an okra seed pod or two. Just let them grow to maturity and dry out. Those seeds some say make a great caffeine-free substitute for coffee. During the American civil war it was claimed by the Austin State Gazette, “An acre of okra will produce seed enough to furnish a plantation with coffee in every way equal to that imported from Rio.” I’m sure some of you coffee connoisseurs will beg to differ.
In any case, it is okra season at the Sierra Vista Farmers Market and whether you like it fried or raw, red or green, or just in your morning brew, our vendors have got this super vegetable just waiting for you to take home and try.
This Week at the Market
If you haven’t been to the Sierra Vista Farmers Market in a while you might have missed some of our new produce, food, and craft vendors. Horton Farms is now selling at Thursday’s market and they have beautiful tomatoes and squash with more vegetables on the way. Gray’s Garden of Eat’n is back this season with tomatoes and 5 varieties of specialty garlic. Arevelos Farms has carrots, beets, squash, onions, garlic, and more. Hilltop Hydroponics has its beautiful lettuce and other greens. Just-a-pinch has his fresh variety of herbs, and Echoing Hope Ranch has their lettuce, squash, and other veggies. Backyard Gardening & Growing has plums, apricots, beets, onions, and more.
For a full list of our produce, food, and artisan vendors please see this week’s newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com if you’d like to have our newsletter delivered directly to your inbox every Tuesday or Wednesday be sure to subscribe in the yellow bar at the top of the website.
Hope to see you all at the market this week!