Did you know that okra is not a native of Texas? I (Juanita) am from New York so until I moved to Texas, I never even heard of okra. Once I got here, I learned that Texans love okra fried in batter. I also learned that people from Louisiana love it in Gumbo. So where did this popular southern veggie come from?
Okra seems to have come from the Middle Eastern area that includes present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the eastern, higher part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Not much is known about the early history of this vegetable.
Okra was taken from Ethiopia to North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, Arabia, and India but we do not know when. Although it has been commonly cultivated in Egypt for many hundreds of years, no sign of it was ever discovered in any of the ancient monuments and pyramids as food for the departed royalty.
Since the Spanish Moors and the Egyptians of the 12th and 13th centuries used an Arab word for okra, it probably was taken into Egypt by the Muslims from the East who conquered Egypt in the 7th century.
From Arabia, okra was spread over North Africa, completely around the Mediterranean, and eastward. The absence of any ancient Indian names for it suggests that it reached India after the beginning of the Christian Era according to experts.
Although the plant has been well known in India for a long time, it is not found wild there. Modern travelers have found okra growing wild in Egypt and Ethiopia.
One of the earliest accounts of okra is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216. He described the plant being grown by Egyptians, and stated that the pods were eaten with meal while still young and tender.
Because of the outstanding popularity of okra in the French cookery of Louisiana, and its slow gain in popularity elsewhere in this country, it is safe to assume that it was introduced to this country by the French colonists of Louisiana in the early 1700s. It had been introduced to the New World, however, before 1658, reaching Brazil supposedly from Africa. It was known in Surinam in 1686.
Strangely, records of okra during early American colonial times are lacking, although it must have been common among French colonists. It was being grown as far north as Philadelphia in 1748; Jefferson said it was known in Virginia before 1781, and from about 1800 onward several gardeners kept records of it. Records show that distinct varieties were known in 1806.
So now we know that okra is not a native of Texas. Interestingly, it is not even a native of the United States.
But it is a good crop to grow in South Texas as well as the South in general.
A pot of gumbo where okra is the main ingredient sounds great--if you like gumbo. My favorite is fried okra.