John Egerton, in his book entitled Southern Food, wrote: “Like pepper jelly, pickled okra seems to have surfaced about forty years ago and rocketed to prominence as a favorite condiment of the Old South.” John also shared with his readers where the first published recipe of pickled okra is. It is in Charleston Receipts, published in 1950.
Pickled Okra Trivia
- Submerged in a brine, you’d think the pickled okra would turn soggy, but most of the time, pickled okra has that nice crunch. How did it happen? The salt in the brine pulls out the moisture from the okra, turning the vegetable crunchy. The magic doesn’t end there. The book Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles explains the transformation happening inside the jar: “The liquid that has been drawn out of the okra creates a glue on the outside of the pod for the spices and aromatics to cling to.”
- In Mary Ellen Hughes’ work of fiction The Pickled Piper, pickled okra was mentioned in the story.
- In the anthology They Call Me Orange Juice: Stories and Essays, there is a story with the title “The Care and Feeding of Pickled Okra.”
Pickled Okra Buying Guide
If you are buying pickled okra, you have two choices. In big supermarkets and grocery stores, you can find major pickled okra brands. For example, H-E-B, an American privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, sells major brands like Best Maid Pickles, which is made by a company based in Fort Worth, Texas. H-E-B also sells Talk O’ Texas Crisp Okra Pickles. It comes in mild and hot variants and is available in different sizes (from 1 oz to 16 oz jar). The company that makes this is based in San Angelo, Texas.
Your other option is to go local. There are many small, local businesses that make small-batch pickled okra, usually using their surplus okra from their farm or backyard garden. Check out Providence Preserve in Duncanville; Stanford Family Farms in Dallas; and Ghost Tree Farm in Elgin. Bucking Goat Farm, in Frisco, also makes small-batch pickled okra. So does Betha’s Best fresh pickled okra, which they sell at Navarro County Farmers Market. Pasture Fresh Farm, in Mansfield, is also making small-batch pickled okra to sell at the farmers market. Grandkid Acres Farm, in Van Alstyne sells Granma Debbie’s Pickled Okra.
When buying pickled okra, check the packaging. Make sure there is no damage or anything that suggests the content inside has been compromised and rendered unsafe to consume. Check if the plastic seal is intact. Inspect the contents inside (jars are usually transparent or see-through, allowing you to see the contents of the jar).
It is good to buy enough, perhaps an extra jar or two, but there is no need to stockpile pickled okra since these are not seasonal hard-to-find commodities. You can always go to the supermarket or grocery to buy it if your supply has run out, so don’t let your refrigerator or pantry get too crowded because of jars of pickled okra.
When buying pickled okra, pick the ones with turmeric. According to Chris Smith who wrote about okra, turmeric makes pickled okra more delicious. “One ingredient does stand out as essential for optimal results: turmeric. I’ve noticed that turmeric shows up on the label of the best store-bought pickles.”
You can buy vegan, kosher, and gluten-free pickled okra.
Pickled Okra Production & Farming in Texas
In Texas, summer is typically okra’s peak harvest season. Some grow okra for fall harvest as well. Commercial growers send their best produce to pickle companies that make pickled okra. Farmers sell their okra at the farmers’ market and allot part of the harvest for making small-batch pickled okra, which they also sell in farmers’ markets.
Production of pickled okra begins with sourcing or buying the finest quality okra. Many businesses prefer to source locally for the supply of okra. Once the supply of okra arrives, the next step is grading. This will be followed by cleaning and preparing the okra before it is placed in jars. Some companies pride themselves on the practice of hand-placing okra in the jar along with spice oils, dry spice, vinegar, salt, and other ingredients. Others rely on machines to do the bottling or canning of pickled okra. These jars will be sealed, labeled, and stored in boxes for delivery to different point-of-sale locations.
Many Texas businesses produce pickled okra, and you can buy pickled okra in the supermarket or when you go to the grocery store. You can also order online and have a jar of okra shipped to you. But many people opt for homemade pickled okra, especially those who are proud of their family recipe. Chris Smith wrote this in his book: “Bringing up the subject of pickling okra in a public place is almost as dangerous as talking about fried okra. It seems as though everyone wants to share their grandmother’s pickling spice recipe that has been handed down through the family.”
Chris Smith, in his book entitled The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration explained that preserving okra can be done in two ways – by pickling using acetic acid, and by fermenting using lactic acid.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals
Pickled okra may contain these additives.
- Calcium chloride – This is used to give food, especially pickled and fermented vegetables, a salty taste, without increasing the food’s sodium content.
- Polysorbate 80 – This is an additive that is used in processed food products for its emulsifying properties. This is the ability to prevent fats from separating out. This is common not just on canned vegetables like pickled okra, but also on frozen desserts, shortenings, baking mixes, and icings.
- Sodium benzoate – This is added to improve the shelf life of pickled okra.
- Tartrazine – also called FD&C Yellow #5, this food coloring is a synthetic lemon yellow azo dye. Tartrazine is also known as E number E102, C.I. 19140, Yellow 5 Lake, Acid Yellow 23, Food Yellow 4, and trisodium 1–4–5-pyrazolone-3-carboxylate.
Pickled okra is a staple in the US south. Fred Thompson, in the book Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides: 250 Dishes That Really Make the Plate, wrote: “No Southerner in his or her right mind would be caught dead without a jar of pickled okra. Store-bought is okay but will never measure up to your own okra pickles.” According to Rebecca Lang, in her book Quick-Fix Southern: Homemade Hospitality in 30 Minutes Or Less, “pickled okra and ham wheels have graced Southern party tables for years.”
Kelly Carrolata, in her book Pickled: From curing lemons to fermenting cabbage, the gourmand’s ultimate guide to the world of pickling, wrote: “Pickled okra is a quintessential Southern delicacy, eaten by itself or enjoyed on a relish tray or with a heaping plate of barbecue.”
Pickled okra is sold in glass or plastic bottles with a sealed lid or cover. Check the plastic seal. It should be intact. If this is broken or damaged, it is possible that the product has been tampered with and the quality and safety have been compromised. Do not buy pickled okra with damaged safety seals, or those that have other signs of damage like cracks on the bottle.
An important part of the packaging is the label, which contains important information for the consumers, including the name of the manufacturer, expiration or best-before date, ingredients, nutritional information, storage instruction, etc.
Enjoying Pickled Okra
Here’s a tip regarding eating pickled okra from the book 12 Bones Smokehouse: An Updated Edition with More Barbecue Recipes from Asheville, NC: use pickled okra when making a sandwich, as an alternative from the common pickle. You’ll love having that variety in taste and texture in your sandwich!
Pickled okra is delicious to eat along with fried catfish or pork chop. You can have pickled okra if you are having a meat and cheese board.
Eat it as a side dish, or as a snack, or maybe add pickled okra to your drink. Judging by the name, you can already guess what’s in an Okratini – martini and pickled okra, which is also used in garnishing Bloody Mary, another popular cocktail drink.
When it comes to storing homemade pickled okra, always remember that pickled okra made using the refrigerator method will keep for a minimum of one month (or longer, just always make sure to check the contents of the jar). Pickled okra made using the hot water bath method will keep for a minimum of 6 months.
Read the label of the jar of store-bought pickled okra you bought. It should have instructions regarding storage. But the rule of thumb when it comes to making sure your pickled okra is safe and keeps for a long time is to refrigerate it, especially once you’ve opened the jar.
When storing pickled okra, never keep the jar’s contents exposed without the lid on it. Close it after you are done scooping it out.
If you want to make pickled okra at home, there are two ways you can do it. The first one is the refrigeration method and the other one is the hot water bath method.
If you want Texas-style pickled okra, the book Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers by Janet Fletcher has a recipe for this. You will need okra, coriander seeds, yellow mustard seed, garlic, red chiles, vinegar, salt, and sugar.
Pickled okra is ready to eat but there is still a lot you can do to level up your pickled okra eating experience. You can stuff pickled okra with pimento cheese as pre-dinner cocktail food, which is also called southern tapas. You can also batter pickled okra before frying to make fried okra.
Pickled okra is a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate food. Eating pickled okra means absorbing all the good things available in okra, including calories, carbohydrates, magnesium, protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, calcium, iron, potassium, and antioxidants. Eating pickled okra may help us have a lower risk for heart disease. It can also lower the risk of getting cancer due to okra’s anti-cancer properties. For people who need to lower their blood sugar level, okra is an excellent addition to your daily diet.