Even though I consider myself an open-minded gardener, I’ve never been a fan of giant veggies as big as my head. I always suspected that a radish the size of a grapefruit would not get straight A’s in a taste test, but was I dead wrong about okra! Born and bred Texans, we have grown and enjoyed every kind of okra under the sun, but after growing mammoth okra last spring, we’re giant okra-verts.
We found this delicious okra entirely by accident. While cruising a local nursery in San Antonio, we were invited to wander through their fields and collect seed pods of various veggies before they were tilled under. Among them were larger-than-usual okra pods. The nursery told us they didn’t know the official name of the okra, but knew that it had come originally from Germany and that it had become a customer favorite. And so we called our discovery “German Okra” and realized, after our first harvest, that we had stumbled onto something special. After doing some research, we confirmed that we were growing one of the many varieties of mammoth okra.
The plants grow similarly to traditional okra plants, but more straight up, with less side branching. By the end of their long growing season, ours had reached 12 feet and I was harvesting them from a six-foot ladder. They were still growing when I cut them back to three feet in September. They began to side branch then, but by that time, the season was too cool for continued production.
The pods are 1-1/2-2″ in diameter, four to five inches in length and even though they look like they are far beyond the harvesting stage of other types of okra, extremely tender with good keeping quality. We think they are slightly sweeter than the smaller types of okra, and freeze better because of their size.
After some experimentation, we began to slice them much thicker than usual, in half-inch slices, bread them with cornmeal or fish fry meal, and fry them (like shrimp!) in a single layer in light olive oil or canola oil; 10 minutes on each side. They’re so big, it only takes about 10 sliced pods to fill a 12-inch skillet. No joke, one thick mammoth okra slice is a mouthful!
Trying to preserve our okra as close to that wonderful fresh taste as possible, we came up with the following method. Okra was sliced, steamed in the microwave for 8 minutes, breaded while still hot, frozen on a cookie sheet in a single layer and later transferred to a Ziploc freezer bag. When we’re ready to eat it during the winter months, the frozen, breaded okra is placed in a skillet with a small amount of hot oil and fried about five minutes on each side. It turns out crispy, sweet, and rich and is as close to the taste of fresh okra as we’ve ever achieved after freezing.
Most seed companies carry some variety of mammoth okra, but we have planted from seed saved after each harvest and had successful crops every season. Even though we will continue to try new varieties of fruits, veggies, and berries each season as we have always done, mammoth okra will have a permanent place in our garden every year-it’s that good!