Returning to my roots...part 1

The weather is getting cooler now, and I can tell that Fall is upon us. The leaves have begun to trade their brilliant green hues for softer yellows, reds and browns and then make their final journey to the ground. The air grows crisp in the mornings and the first rains are falling from the heavens, and my body, in turn, begins to yearn for clothes that cling softly to my skin, down comforters, closed-toed shoes and food that warms my soul.

Fall is, by far, my favorite season. The smells, the chill in the air, the colors, the feeling of a new beginning (perhaps this feeling should come in Springtime, but for someone who has been in school now for almost 17 years, Fall is when everything begins anew), but it's also about the food. This may have been why I began my little food blog in the Fall, a little over one year ago. I find I don't mind spending long hours in the kitchen since it is far cooler than it has been the last few months. And the food at the market is food that brings back so many good memories and is as ripe with childhood nostalgia as it is with flavor. Apples, grapes, eggplant, mushrooms, figs, and heavy, red tomatoes. At the grocery store, I find my choices are now leaning towards richer, heavier foods...picking out free-range chickens for both dinner and batches of homemade chicken stock, spices like sage and thyme, heady cheeses, and thick, hearty breads.

The last time I was home, I sat with my grandmother (my dad's mother, not the one who recently passed away) and we dove through her recipes and cookbooks, seeking out her favorites and my favorites and the ones that she wanted to pass down to me since she knows how much I love to cook, and she isn't able to do the cooking any longer. There were recipes for casseroles of all kinds, yeast breads and rolls, ethnic recipes (Guamanian chicken is one that I'll share later, from when she lived in Guam), and several of her own mother's dishes.

What I remember most about the time spent with my grandmother in my childhood are the breakfasts - lots of fresh biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, and bacon. But secondary to those feasts, I remember the trips to Texas. My grandmother was the second oldest child in a family with 8 children. She was born in Texas and many of her siblings still reside all over the state. We used to go there for family reunions when I was younger. And Lord, can those Texans cook! Anything fried was certainly a specialty, but my favorite? Fried okra. Nobody, and I mean, nobody, can make fried okra taste like a Texan can. And lucky me? There's been loads of these fresh, green pods at the Farmer's Market, nestled in with all that gorgeous Fall produce.

My first attempt at fried okra, via grandma's word of mouth and the way her family has always cooked it, is what follows. And it's delicious. It's not healthy, but sometimes family recipes trump healthy, and anyway, who cares if it's healthy? It's freakin' delicious! Besides, since it is Fall, we should be storing up for Winter, right? Beware making too large of quantities of this - it goes down like popcorn and it's difficult to stop eating it.

Eakin Family Fried Okra, recipe courtesy of Evelyn Baysinger

Get yourself several pods of fresh okra or a bag of frozen okra (though not quite as good, still pretty darn tasty). Whisk together 1 or 2 whole eggs in a bowl, depending on how much okra you have. In another bowl, put 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour and an equal amount of cornmeal. Put this flour mixture inside a large ziplock bag and add salt, pepper and avery slight pinch of cayenne pepper.

Now, here's the secret: Cook 1/2 lb - 1 lb of your favorite smoked bacon in a heavy pan (cast iron would be ideal) until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Reserve the bacon for another use, and reserve the bacon grease to cook your okra in (Aha! That's why it tastes so delicious!). Keep the heat at a moderate heat, then if you have fresh okra pods, cut them into 1/2" pieces and put them directly in the bowl with the egg. Mix until all of the pieces of okra are coated well. Pick them out with a slotted spoon and add them to the bag with the four/cornmeal mixture. Close up the bag and shake it gently until all the okra is coated with the flour mixture. Pick a good handful of okra out and shake off the excess flour (there won't be much), then add it to the pan with the bacon grease. Fry the okra until it turns golden brown on all sides, turning as needed. Drain the grease off the okra on a paper towel and repeat, cooking the rest of the okra. Attempt to restrain from eating the entire plate full.

I served the okra with Chicken with Lots of Garlic, turnips with bread crumbs and parsely, and wilted turnip greens. For dessert, Great-grandma's Date Nut Loaf Cake (I'll post this one soon too).

11 comments from you:

Morgan said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I had been avoiding the Farmers Market the last few weeks and now I have a reason to go. After growing up in the South, it has been hard to find any fresh okra. And now I have. I must go tomorrow. Gosh, I love Eugene more and more every day.

Jennifer said...

I love fried okra! I haven't had any in ages, though.

Julie said...

I've been meaning to try okra all summer but haven't yet. I guess I better hurry up and get around to it before they're done for the season. Any hints on what size pods to use? I notice a big range of sizes at my farmer's market.

Fried okra must be in the air today. I don't know if you read Homesick Texan but she posted about fried okra today too.

michelle said...

Hi Morgan, Thanks for visiting my site! You must be living in Eugene, then? There was still fresh okra, as of Saturday; though I'm not sure about who's at the Tuesday Market. This really is a wonderful, wonderful place for all kinds of food - plus, all the farmers are great!

Hi Jennifer, After seeing what you've posted on your blog (pecan pie bars! yum!) you should make some fried okra too (pecans are one of the Eakin family's true loves) - or I have another pecan recipe coming up (and it's even a baking recipe...). Thanks for stopping by and saying hello.

Hi Julie, Honestly, this is the only way I've made okra that I really liked it and it didn't get all slimy. I used pods that were probably 4-5 inches long. I'll go check out the Homesick Texan - sounds like my kind of site!

Natalia said...

Oh yeah, anything that is fried in bacon grease is delicious! I like to make fried green tomato sandwiches. Those southerners really know how to cook. It looks like a delicious meal!

Kate said...

fried okra is definitely a part of my culinary heritage as well...and so delicious!! mmm, looks great =)

vlb5757 said...

Michelle, you know how I feel about Okra. I will do some soon. I have 4 bags all cut up in the freezer from the garden and am chomping at the bit to fry some viddles up. Might be this weekendt though. Nice looking okra!

michelle said...

Natalia, what a fabulous idea! As soon as my arteries clear out from the assault of the fried okra, I'm going to eat all the rest of my green tomatoes like that!!

Kate, I know! Your southern cooking is always an inspiration to me too!

Vickie, I did this just for you and I can't wait to see if the cast iron pan helps out. I've really got to get myself one of those one of these days!

Paz said...

Everything looks terrific! I love okra. ;-)


michelle said...

Thanks, Paz! Me too!

Cyndi said...

I read your post about the halibut fishing to DH, who listened raptly (he's an avid fisherman). Then I read him the one about Thailand - he was stationed there three times. Then I scrolled down and said, "Hey, that's fried okra!" It's my favorite vegetable, and your recipe is just like mine, which is how my mother and grandmother make it. I make fried okra often, as long as I can get it at the market. When I was in high school in Texas I grew it in the back yard so we could have it whenever I wanted it. I enjoyed reading all these posts!