Fear and Joy a la Okra
By Leah Wendt

Posted on September 2, 2015 10:52 AM

Leah Wendt is a language arts professor at Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College, both on the Franklin and Main campuses.

Tonight I faced one of my fears.

 Before I did any facing, though, I carefully prepared. I studied the instructions for a few days. I gathered the materials. I psyched myself up with pep talks.

Of course, I didn't have to convince myself too hard:

The goal was to make homemade fried okra.

A couple days earlier, a friend handed me a bag of okra from his Logan County farm. Thank you, Turner family! What to do with said okra?

It was serendipitous that Jim handed me that okra because I had just the night before found two - yes, two! - okra recipes in an old edition of Southern Living (June 2014, if you want to track these down).

About four years ago, "okra" was not in my active food vocabulary. I recognized it in the grocery store thanks to my grandmother who hailed from Oklahoma (yes, I do realize that's not the South proper). But I only remember eating pickled okra that involved more slimey-ness than pickley-ness.

Fast forward to my life here in Kentucky and now I realize that the best way to eat okra is fried - deep fried.

Now that I had real okra in the frig, I studied the two recipes on hand: “skillet roasted okra with shrimp” or “smashed fried okra”. The smashing part was intriguing but I automatically ruled out the fried recipe. The thought of eating deep fried food is tempting. The thought of doing the frying myself causes me anxiety. Fairly deep anxiety.

Something about that very hot oil, the splatter potential, those warning videos about oil fires on the stove…the smell of fried food in the house for three days…I’m just not a fan.

Besides, we already had the ingredients for the roasting route.

And this is how fate tempts me: My family saw the magazine on the coffee table, open to the okra recipes and their full color photos.

"Wow, that fried okra looks so good!”

 Yeah, it sounded good.

I tried to figure out if the recipe would work for oven-fried okra. I resisted for several days, checking the okra each night to see if it was still good.

Finally, I stopped stalling. Tonight, I got down to business: I tied my hair back, got out the meat mallet for the smashing part, laid out the bowls, pulled out a deep pan, made sure the lid was nearby in case of a grease fire.

I smashed okra – that was fun! I poured buttermilk (was I supposed to actually measure it?). Cornmeal somehow spread to half the kitchen. I had my plate with paper towels. I can do this, I kept telling myself.

I’d like to say it was a glorious success.

I realize now why the recipe directs you to use a Dutch oven so you know the temperature of the oil. In my fear, I kept the oil too cold. Did I say “oil”? I had to use several sticks of shortening because we did not have enough oil in the house. That also meant the okra didn’t deep fry after all, it side-fried.

The okra is not as golden or crispy as it should be. But it is homemade and there’s a big plate of it which won’t last much longer.

Overall, though, I would call the evening a success. My fear of frying has lessened dramatically. If any one would like to hand me more okra (hint, hint!), I am up for another round of practice.


Copyright © The Logan Journal 2009 - 2024