My sister wrote the following essay several year ago, for inclusion in our Carriker Reunion Cookbook. She is now in the process of starting a new blog:
Peggy Linn Carriker-Rosenbluth
Friends and Family Recipes
G.R.I.T.S. Girls Raised In The South. That’s me! Oh, not so far south that I say “Y’all,” but far enough south to really appreciate good cooking. And I learned all of my cooking skills at my grandmother’s apron strings. But now I live in Maryland and there are some things I just can’t cook living up here in the North.
One thing that I probably miss the most is fried okra. My mouth waters just thinking about a nice mess of fried okra, hot out of my cast iron skillet. You see, I have most of the basic ingredients to make fried okra; I’ve got the cast iron skillet, a gas stove (that’s a must for cast iron), the cornmeal and flour, and even the bacon grease. You can’t fry good okra in anything but bacon grease. But the one thing I’m missing is the okra. Oh, I’ve tried things like frozen okra and even what passes for fresh okra around here but they’re just not right. The frozen okra has that “feature” of okra that makes it most unappealing (it’s slimy) so it’s really better in soups and stews. And the fresh okra is either limp or tough, or both. Nope, I need fresh-picked okra right out of the garden and the pods can’t be too big. If you can’t pierce the cap easily with a fingernail, it’s too old and you might as well use it in your soup. But it’s just too cool up here in Maryland to grow good okra. Several years back my husband and I tried growing okra in our garden and we did get enough to make one mess of fried okra, but it turned out to be just a teaser. The rest of the summer it was a pod here and a pod there but never enough to fry up. And I should tell you that my husband, born in New York to lifelong New York parents, tried his best to grow okra we could be proud of.
My husband is a convert, you might say, to good cooking. When we got married, he said the “better or worse” vow and that meant he has to eat what I cook, better or worse. We were living in Oklahoma the first time I told him I was cooking okra. His first question was, “What’s okra?” After I explained what it was, his next question was, “And just how do you cook it?” I told him to trust me and I cooked up a mess of okra. He was a convert from that point on and loves fried okra and my southern cooking. I don’t think I could ever convince him to eat a squirrel or a rabbit, though.* And along the way I’ve learned how to cook a few “New York” things, but that’s another story.
So what is it about fried okra that makes it so appealing to me? Besides the wonderful flavor, there’s this new phrase that’s come up, “comfort food.” I think that’s the part of fried okra I like almost as much as the flavor. It reminds me of the smells of cooking in my Grandma’s kitchen, especially on a hot summer evening. Grandma had probably already spent the day canning vegetables, working in the garden, cleaning house, and minding active grandchildren and still she took the time to cook a hot meal for dinner. And, it was these times that I learned to can my own vegetables, grow gardens (both vegetables and flowers), and clean my house. But the two skills I learned at her apron strings that have given me the greatest joy are my cooking skills and the patience to enjoy my grandchildren.
P.S. For more about the above-mentioned fried squirrel or rabbit, scroll down for Peg's essay, "Like Chicken," which she was kind enough to allow me to post on this blog a couple of days ago. Thanks for sharing, Peg, both your writing and your cooking!