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Pickled Okra

Clockwise from 6:00 - green beans, rice with BBQ gravy, cornmeal hushpuppies and fried shrimp, slaw, pickled okra, fried chicken, turnip greens, and macaroni. There's a deviled crab and fried catfish hiding underneath somewhere, too.

I haven’t lived “at home” for over ten years. I think it took all this struggle lately for me to reconnect with most of the food I grew up eating. Sure, I’ve plied the culinary waters of Rome, standing over Francine making her sugo and Randy Swofford’s Cranberry Beef and pans of focaccia bread, and returned the favor by showing her how to make Shrimp and Grits. I’ve made tarte tatin and swiss merengue and a few asian dishes that’ll make your hair stand up. I started thinking about the times when I actually ate this way on a daily basis and I was at a loss for words. The people I lived around for the first segue of my life have meat and three veg every day. I get lost a lot in commercialism and fast-fix meals and I’m slowly trying to change that. It’s far easier, I’ll admit, to throwing off my heavy burden of work at the door at 6pm and ordering a pizza, then retiring to the bed than it is to stand over my cutting board preparing something fresh. It would be nice to see my abs again after bidding them farewell a few years ago.

Who am I kidding? I’m a foodie, I wasn’t born to have abs.

When I think of hard-working, simple folks eating good food, I think of a Southern Buffet, and the one that comes to mind is the Schoolhouse Restaurant in Scranton, SC. It’s a hop skip and a jump from my stomping grounds and is in one of those one stoplight towns along the railroad tracks. It used to be a furniture store, then a school, and it’s now become one of the best places around for country-style cooking.  Did I mention these people make the best slaw on the planet?  No? On Fridays, fried seafood joins the mix of regulars on the buffet–steaming piles of collards, turnips, rice and gravy, macaroni, barbecue, chicken bog (yes, bog..ask Google), fried chicken and fried fish. It wouldn’t be a proper meal without other staples like fried fatback (again, ask Google), congealed salad (jello with fruit, nuts, and whipped cream), and pickled vegetables.

Basically, we’re replacing the cucumbers with other yummy bits. In the case of this restaurant, it’s okra. My grandmother used to “put up” artichoke hearts, cauliflower and jalapeno peppers and at Sunday dinners, my uncle would pop the top from the mason jar and eat directly from it, much to his mother’s chagrin. It took finding them at this restaurant to revive that memory. Here’s her recipe:

Pickled Okra
by Jason Osborne
Yield 4 pints

4 pint sized mason jars
2 lbs medium sized okra pods
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp pickling spice (from the spice aisle) per jar
1 hot green pepper (i.e. serrano) per jar

Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan and then turn off. Pour pickling spices in each jar. Arrange pods and the pepper in each jar. Pour the brine over the pods, leaving a bit of room between brine and lid. Seal and process in a boiling water bath (i.e. canning) or if you don’t feel like sterilizing your entire kitchen plus more specialty equipment, simply refrigerate immediately. Store for 3 weeks, whichever method you choose, before opening and serving.