A Very Small Batch of Pickled Okra

I love pickled okra; this year I decided to make pickled okra with the pods growing in my garden. Most recipes for pickled okra make a large batch; I’ve experimented with scaling back the ingredients to accommodate what I can pick from my garden every morning.Pickled Okra and Fresh Okra - IMG_4721Pickled okra is one of my favorite foods on restaurant salad bars. It is kind of a novelty; nothing I would purchase for myself at home. I love adding the crunchy, pickled and vinegary vegetable onto to a large salad creation. The okra has a different taste than boiled okra–it’s not slimy or fibrous. I was pleasantly surprised to find that pickled okra is easy to make at home.

Making Pickled Okra 

Making pickled okra at home is not difficult. It uses only a few ingredients – a salt brine with vinegar and water; and garlic, dill and peppercorns for seasonings. That’s it. The okra just needs to be cleaned and sorted. No peeling, dicing or slicing as small, tender whole okra pods are what you need for pickled okra.  Here are the ingredients.Ingredients for Pickled Okra - 2 - IMG_4797_1

The main challenge is getting the sterilized canning jars ready, then boiling the okra in a water bath. But that can be managed, too.

Scaling back the recipe ingredients

Most pickled okra recipes call for 5 to 7 pounds of okra – a small field of okra. I have 12 okra plants and am lucky to get 8 oz of small okra pods in a few days. So over the past several weeks I have experimented with scaling back the quantities to make a small batch at a time. I also tried making refrigerated okra rather than processing the jars in a canner. We’ll see how this works out; I wouldn’t keep this okra more than a month or two; but then pickled okra doesn’t last long at our house. It’s a favorite.

Growing Okra in Louisiana

It is difficult to grown vegetables in the hot Louisiana summer. But okra is one plant that thrives and every year my okra plants shoot up towards the sky. I plant the seedlings in late June or early July. Once planted and fertilized there is not much to do. Okra seems to be very resilient in the garden — my kind of plant. I rarely water the plants.Okra in garden - IMG_4636But the pods grow quickly and can shoot up overnight into a large, fibrous and inedible pod. I have learned to go to my garden every morning to pick the okra while it is still young and tender. It takes more okra this way; but the pods are tender and fit in a small canning jar. Here’s my backyard garden with the large okra plants in the back.Okra in Garden IMG_4751_1

A word about home canning and preserving foods safely

Home canning and preserving foods has been done for years; the purpose and techniques have changed very little over time. The goal is to preserve the food so that the taste, texture and color is preserved while killing any harmful bacteria and organisms that may cause the food to spoil.

Most organisms are killed by heat of processing the food in a boiling water bath. However, there is one resistant organism that beats the heat — that is botulism spores. These spores live in the garden soil and non-acidic vegetables such as potatoes, garlic and okra can carry the spores. The spores are not killed by boiling water. They can be killed by a pressure cooker; but that’s alot of work and you must know how to use a pressure cooker.

And this isn’t something out of a book; I can tell of the case of two ladies who ate baked potatoes in a local restaurant. The potatoes had been left out on the counter overnight and the botulism multiplied. The two ladies wound up with a severe case of botulism poisoning — the poison paralyzes the nervous system and the ladies were placed on ventilators to keep them breathing for several months. Both survived. However, it is enough of a tale for me to take this seriously.

Garlic can carry the spores, too. Purchased jars of prepared, chopped garlic in oil should be stored in the refrigerator not on the kitchen counter!

Fortunately, botulism spores are killed by acid. Processing the okra in a pickled vinegar and salt bath kills the spores.

So, it is important to use a vinegar with a known acidic acid content — use 5% acetic acid vinegar — this can be diluted in half. A champagne or balsamic vinegar, for example, might not have this much acid content.

The second part of canning food at home safely is to have everything clean and sterilized. For these small batches, I simply place the canning jars in water in the clean canner (or large pot) and let them set in boiling water for 5 minutes. I do this while getting everything else ready; it’s not much extra work. I keep the seals and lids in another small pot of boiling water. Here are the lids on the left, the brine in the center pot and the jars being sterilized on the right.Sterilizing Jars and Lids - IMG_4800_1

Here we go

It’s time to get out some gadgets which make the job of canning easier. The tongs are for getting the jars in and out of the canner without burning your hands; the gripper with a magnet is for getting the lids out of the water without touching them and burning your hands. The center tool allows a person to measure how much space is left between the top of the brine and the lid and allows you to get air bubbles out of the jar.gadgets - IMG_4814_1

So, wash and clean the okra and trim stems (while the jars are being sterilized). Leave okra whole. I like to use very small okra pods. This batch, however, included larger pods, too. Pack the okra into the hot clean, sterilized jars. For this batch of okra, I used a pint jar and a half pint jar (8 oz). The larger jar accommodates the longer pods.Fresh Okra in Jars - IMG_4724_1Please one peeled garlic in each jar along with 2 peppercorns per jar and about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dill seed per jar.

Make the brine by dissolving the salt in the vinegar and water. Heat to boiling and stir to dissolve the salt and distribute it in the brine. Remove from heat. Use a funnel to fill the jars with the brine to about half an inch from the top of the jar. This funnel is a bit small, but it works. The okra floats!Okra in Jars with Funnel - IMG_4728_1Use the magnetic gripper to get the seals out of the boiling water and onto the jars. Jars can be re-used from year to year. However, always use new seals which are’t bent. Here’s another batch of okra.magnet gadget - IMG_4809_1After adding the seals and rings (not too tightly), hoist the jars back into the canner. The water should cover the lids by an inch to two inches. Loosely place the lid on the canner, bring to a boil. After the water starts boil, process the okra for 10 minutes.Tongs gadget - IMG_4812_1

The last step is to label the jars. Move the jars to a tray on the counter and let cool. The seals will probably pop. It is very easy to forget when you made each batch, so use masking tape (found at a hardware store or shipping store) and a permanent market to label the jars. A wax pen can also be used to label the jars — but these pens are hard to find locally.Labeling Okra Jars - IMG_4735_1

The hardest part is to wait 2 weeks so the brine can settle into the okra. Then, at our house, the opened jar of pickled okra is gone in a few minutes. Enjoy!

Recipe

A Very Small Batch of Pickled Okra

  • Servings: three 1/2-pint jars or one 1-pint jar and one 1/2-pint jar
  • Time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Supplies: Large canner or stockpot with rack which sets on bottom; three 1/2-pint Mason or canning jars (or one 1-pint jar and two 1/2-pint jars), rings and new seals which fit the jars, funnel, sturdy tongs, magnetic gripper.

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz small okra pods (2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup distilled white 5% acidity vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 2 – 3 large, peeled garlic cloves (1 per jar)
  • 1/4 tsp dill seed per jar
  • 2 whole black peppercorns per jar

Method and steps

  1. Clean okra pods, trim off stems. Leave pods whole. Set aside.
  2. Fill canner 1/2 full with water. Place Mason or canning jars in canner on rack covering with water. Bring to boil and let boil 5 minutes to sterilize the jars.
  3. In another small pot, cover seals and rings with water. Bring to boiling, let simmer.
  4. In third pot, add water, vinegar and salt. Bring to boil over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve and distribute salt. Set aside.
  5. Remove jars from canner with tongs. Place on tray. (I cover bottom of tray with a kitchen towel.) Fill jars with okra. Pack okra in each jar as the pods float once the brine is added.
  6. Add a large garlic clove, 1/4 tsp dill seed and 2 whole black peppercorns to each jar.
  7. Using a funnel, pour the hot brine into each jar; fill to 1/2 inch from top. Wipe rims of jars off with towel, if needed.
  8. Using magnetic gripper, place seal and ring on each jar. Screw on ring but not too tightly.
  9. Using sturdy tongs, place jars back on rack in canner or large stock pot. If needed add additional water to cover jars by 1 to 2 inches.
  10. Bring water to roiling boil, then time 10 minutes to process the okra.
  11. Remove jars from canner and place back on tray. Let cool 12 to 24 hours. Press on center of each lid to test for proper seal. Jars should pop.
  12. Label jars with date. Store in cool dry place for 2 weeks before using the jars. Pickled okra can keep at room temperature for up to a year.

(For 8 oz okra, use 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, 3 Tbsp salt and four 1/2-pint jars or two 1-pint jars. For 10 to 12 oz okra use 1 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup salt and six 1/2-pint jars. Adjust garlic, dill and peppercorns accordingly.)

Pickled Okra - IMG_7875

The delicate okra blossom is one of the prettiest flowers in my garden. I’ve learned to appreciate okra in new ways since living in Louisiana.

okra blossum - IMG_4756_1 Reference

National Center for Home Food PreservationThe University of Georgia, College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Preparing and Canning Pickled Vegetables. Pickled Dilled Okra   //nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/pickled_dill_okra.html

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