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Mayhaw Man

okra-original recipes

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Thank you for taking the time to answer all of our questions, I have enjoyed much of your work and appreciate the opportunity to speak with you (if this is speaking, I still can't get down the lingo of this modern communication method)

My question is about okra, a favorite of mine. I like it boiled, fried, in soup and stew, pickled, in cornbread ((real cornbread, not sweet, try it sometime it is wonderful), etc. I was wondering what were the original ways that okra was used when it was first brought here from Africa (and I think via the Carribbean)? How did Africans cook it? Was is just boiled and eaten or were there more complex uses or did the dishes gain complexity through the influence of other cultures?

Also, would you agree or disagree with this theory:

The food that is now being considered unhealthy (fried, use of lard, etc) has only become unhealthy in the second half of the twentieth century. It seems to me that when everyone was working their ass off (excuse my French) at labor type employment/survival jobs that foods with tons of calories and lots of fat concentrated in one meal would have been energy providers to help you get through a workday, rather than an unhealthy hinderance eaten just for enjoyment (although God knows they are enjoyable). Now that people do not do the manual labor as in the past, they become unhealthy because there is not outlet for the calories.

Thanks in advance for your answers,

Brooks

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Hi Mayhew Man,

You couldn't love okra anymore that I do. It is one of my favorite vegetables; and full of nutrients too. That gooey stuff is supposed to be full of health protecting antioxidants. We can thank African slaves for this gem.

As you know, okra is loved in the South and was brought to the region by African slaves. Records show that in the early 1700s okra was a main ingredient in a dish in Louisiana named gumbo; a savory pot of vegetables, shellfish and sometimes sausage. My research shows that okra was seen as early as 1658 in Brazil, again, brought by African slaves. Interesting enough, the Central African Bantu word for okra is "ngumbo" or "ngombo."

Today okra is enjoyed around the world: the Middle East, India, the Caribbean, France, Asia, and of course in Africa, probably its birthplace. I love okra prepared all kind of ways. It's in peak supply here in NYC, and I pickled a few jars the other day, just to have on hand for the holidays.

Good tip from you: I have never had okra in cornbread, but will try. In Trinidad they do a similar dish with boiled cornmeal, kind of a polenta, and stir in okra. The world is real small.

As for fattening soul food. No such thing. I agree all those calories were needed year ago to do all that work. Today, the country is sedentary; in all quarters, and the country is facing a serious weighty problem. As soon as I finish this chat I am going for a long bike ride, and come back home and cook dinner. Smile.

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Thanks,

I had the dish from Trinidad when we were down there for Carnival (can never remember the year, but HOTHOTHOT won the road march that year). I believe it is call Coocoos. Very good

About the okra and cornbread deal, no need to pre cook or blanche, just slice thin and throw into the batter mix. Adds great flavor and an interesting creamy texture.

THanks for your answer

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I'm chiming in here not for the love of okra (it's okay, particularly pickled, but I could live if it were to disappear from the face of the earth), but to agree with Mayhaw Man's theory re "unhealthy" food: it's not the food that's the problem, it's the fact that we are sedentary.

My mother (who grew up in the rural south) remarked recently that she had never met a fat person until she left the mountains. Despite everybody's eating a traditional diet nobody was obese. In fact, most people were wiry (and my mother was positively scrawny). These same people still live in that part of the world, but most of them are no longer subsistence farmers, and obesity is epidemic.

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