The Great Okra Debate

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Last year, the early spring days were somewhat wet and the activity in gardens had been a tough row to hoe around the Volunteer State. Uncle Sid always told me that if you wait ’til right after tax time to start putting out your crop, both you and the taxman would be better off come next year.

The other day, as I looked through a display of brightly colored packaged seeds at the garden store, I saw some okra. Okra is one item that Uncle Sid considers a weed, and one spring day I discovered he and Aunt Sadie had totally different views on the plant.

It was a late April day fit for planting a garden. The sky was overcast, the humidity somewhat high and the white frame farmhouse of the old couple was totally dark. I walked on around the house to the backyard, and sure enough, there they were in the middle of a family discussion at the beginning of a newly planted row in their closely manicured vegetable garden.

Aunt Sadie saw me first and rubbed her hands on her apron so she could give me a hug without soiling my clothes. We exchanged pleasantries, and I took my place at the beginning of the garden row being planted with the two aged agriculturalists. Aunt Sadie asked my opinion on how much is too much okra when you are planting your garden. Uncle Sid had said nothing, which indicated he was not at all in agreement with Aunt Sadie’s plans for the afternoon. It also sent up a red flag to me on how I should be answering the question. I knew he was the head of the household on this farm, but I also knew that Aunt Sadie was the neck that controlled the direction of the head. Plus, there was the smell of a freshly baked cobbler coming from the kitchen’s windowsill just a few yards away, and I didn’t want to miss out on any of that later.

Being a college graduate, an elected county commissioner and a direct descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, I said, “There is never too much okra, is there? What do you think, Uncle Sid?” Boy, was I out-educated and birth-righted with his answer.

Leaning on his garden hoe and kicking a dirt clod with his old brogan, he answered. “It’s a known fact that common or uncommon insects won’t even eat okra,” he said. “If a bug won’t even eat it, why should we? It is related to cotton and hibiscus plants, which don’t sound very appetizing, plus when you boil it, the stuff turns into something sort of like pond scum.”

From those statements, I got the feeling the old man was not very interested in planting okra. But as I glanced at Aunt Sadie, I saw a look from her eyes, bypassing me, going straight to the source of the recent comments on okra. Uncle Sid saw that look as well, as he, too, was receiving the same vibes I was from that little white-haired lady with her hands placed firmly on her hips.

“But you know,” he added while rubbing his chin, “okra, fried in good country cornmeal and placed alongside Sadie’s homegrown tomatoes, can’t be beat. Boy (he still calls me boy even though I’m eligible for Social Security), okra can be boiled, pickled, steamed and fried. And the interesting thing is that it still tastes like okra no matter what you do to it. It arrived in these parts way back in 1806, and if it had not been for okra seeds during the last days of the War of Northern Aggression, our kin folks wouldn’t have had a replacement for coffee when times got real tough. In fact, just thinking about a good cup of coffee and Sadie’s cobbler over yonder in the kitchen window makes me want to plant both those rows of okra that Sadie ‘suggested’ a few minutes ago. What do you think, Miss Sadie?”

Later that afternoon the cobbler was certainly good, and it’s amazing what can be done in the garden when it involves a
cobbler and a stern look from a headstrong little old lady.

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