I am going to assume that this is a frightening thing for a lot of people. To begin with, okra! That slimy, mucous oozing vegetable that people can recall image after image of ruining many an otherwise delectable plate. I will admit that I do not love okra in all it’s forms. It can be exactly what we fear, reminiscent of snail and the trail it drags. For me, it took many extra small baby steps before I could even consider buying okra at the market. Here are my suggestions. Begin with fried okra. Buy a small batch of okra. Heat oil. Cut the okra into pieces. Dip in an egg wash, and then into a seasoned cornmeal and flour mixture (salt and pepper. paprika? garlic powder? cayenne? chili powder? the possibilities are endless). Fry to a golden brown. Basically, you can’t dislike fried okra.

Go from there. Make a stew in which the “slime” actually works in your favor as a thickening agent. Try some jumbalaya. Really, this is the fun sort of homework. You can do it. You’ll be happy you did.

Canning is also a fearful subject for a lot of people. There are horror stories of canned goods gone wrong. Plus, we have all had that neighbor that gifts you mystery canned meat product every christmas. (no? not everyone has had that neighbor? well, trust me, you should feel very very lucky). Brush off all those horrid feelings. Not all canned goods need to be strange unappetzing foodstuffs that you can only imagine existing in a bomb shelter. In regards to contamination fears, if you follow the right steps, pay attention, and use your common sense when you open a shelved can (does it smell bad?)…I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine. Canning is a great skill to have. You have complete control of all the ingredients and flavors. Not to mention the fact that you get to preserve produce you otherwise would never dream of finding in any form in the middle of January.

If you have never canned anything before, do a little bit of reading first. It is good to know the basic steps to water bath canning ahead of time so that you don’t get caught searching for the next step. I have found Food in Jars to be a very helpful website, and even took a class with Marisa in my early days. She has a book out now that I do not own but I imagine is just as great as her blog. I also keep a copy of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader on hand for reference regarding all sorts of preservation methods.

This recipe is an augmented version of a recipe from Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. Her version is definitely excellent, but I like a bit of a kick.

Spicy Pickled Okra

As you may have noticed, I like things spicy. If you aren’t so keen on heat, feel free to use fewer jalapeños or less cayenne and crushed red pepper. Keep in mind that the longer you allow the okra to sit in the pickling liquid before you crack the seal on the jar, the spicier they will be.

2 pounds okra
2 jalapeños
4-8 cloves garlic (our cloves were small, so we used 8)
4 cups cider vinegar
4 cups of water
2 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons dill seeds
2 teaspoons ground cayenne
4 pint jars

1. Prepare your jars for water-bath canning.
2. Get everything together so you can work quickly later. Quarter the jalapeños lengthwise. Remove stems from the okra. Check the length of the okra with an extra jar. You may need to trim some of the okra to be sure they fit in the jar easily. Crush and peel the garlic. Separate the okra, jalapeños, garlic, cayenne, dill, and crushed pepper into 4 piles.
3. Once the jars are sterilized (do not remove from the boiling water yet), combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a non-reactive pot (I use stainless steel). Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.
4. Remove the jars from the canning pot and place them onto a towel. Be sure not to put them onto the cool countertop to avoid the possibility of cracking jars. Don’t forget about your lids! Put the rings and flat lids directly into the canning pot, or ladle boiling water into a smaller pot in which you have put the lids and rings. This allows the lids to come to temperature and the rubbery gluey stuff on the flat part of the lids to soften a bit.
5. Be speedy at this point. Put one pile of spices, etc, into each jar. Pack the jars with okra.
6. Ladle the hot vinegar mixture into the jars. Leave 1/2 inch headspace.
7. With a chopstick, butter knife, or similar tool to remove any air bubbles in the liquid. Wipe the rims of the jars. Put your flat lid and rings on the jars.
8. Return the jars to the canning pot water and bring to a boil. Process for 15 minute.
9. Remove the jars and place them on the towel once more. After one hour, check that the lids have sealed. If any of the jars did not seal, don’t worry, simply put in the refrigerator. Otherwise, do not disturb the jars for 12 hours.

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