Growing and Cooking Okra

DSCN0854Let’s start with cooking, since if you think it’s slimy and disgusting you won’t want to grow it.  To the left is a picture of my favorite way to eat okra, cooked in boiling water for a few minutes until a fork passes through it easily, but so it is still bright green and will hold itself out when held at one end.  Put seasoned salt on it and butter if you like, and eat it:  hold the stem and take bites from the end.  It turns out, okra gets DSCN0727more slimy the more it is cooked, so cooked this way there is almost no sliminess and the flavor is nice.  If adding to soup, add it at the end and only let it cook 10 minutes or so — it will be softer, but not over-cooked.

Growing okra is also easy, and the flowers are pretty.  Plant the large seeds after the ground has warmed up and there is no chance of frost; these plants were planted in West Virginia on May, 21.  I planted mine squashed between the corn and the deer fence in my raised garden.  Okra grows vigorously and is not sensitive to  pests, mold or, evidently, crowding; however, the more crowded plants produced less okra.

Below are two pictures of growing okra.  The plant generally grows on a single stalk, with a single flower blooming one at a time on the newer growth.  The picture to the left shows flower buds up the stalk, with a cluster at the top — the buds closer to blooming are lower on the stalk.  The picture to the right shows the seed pods, the edible part of the okra plant, that grow after the flower drops off.  The larger pods are at the bottom, getting smaller as they are higher.  Five inches is about the maximum length for tender seed pods for this variety:  Gurney’s Gumbo Hybrid Okra.  Picking at less than three inches seems wasteful.  Six plants (that are not over-crowded) picked every-other day results in one to two servings of okra.

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Skunk Trapped with Hen

Last night, around midnight, I let the dogs out to do their business and was mildly alarmed by upset sounds from a hen.  (She was alone in a pen because she’d turned broody and I was trying to convince her to get over it.)  I grabbed a flashlight to take a look, and saw two eyes, low to the ground, shining in the light.  I moved closer and first saw a short horizontal white strip, and thought, “No!”  But yes, it was skunk, apparently trapped in the pen with the hen.  Quickly, I hollered for the dogs to get them inside before they realized the skunk was there.  That went well, but it was two hours before I got back to sleep.  When I looked later, the skunk was gone.  I think it knew perfectly well how to get in and out — there are holes in the roof big enough — and was looking for eggs.  A few weeks ago I’d found some eaten eggs in the regular pen, found a skunk-sized hole in the fencing and fixed it.  I had hoped it was a opossum.  This may not end well.

Old Garden Weed Patch

The plan was to kill all the weeds on the old garden plot using Round-Up after all the seeds should have sprouted.  Then, disturbing the soil as little as possible, plant zinnia, corn, wild flower seeds, and all other left over seeds (mostly okra, squash, marigold).  Then the good plants should grow with very little effort from me.  I followed this plan, but as you can see below that didn’t work out, at all.  I was going to ignore it, but finally gave in and weeded the row of zinnias.  You can see some corn peaking out of the top of the grass, but it doesn’t look like it is making any ears of corn.

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However, it turns out, under all that grass there are wild flowers, marigolds, and squashes being created.

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Easiest way to Store Surplus Tomatoes

DSCN0794If you have a chest freezer with space, the easiest way to handle extra tomatoes is to rinse them, let them dry, put them in a gallon zip-lock bag and chuck  them in the freezer.  When you want to use them, put the frozen tomatoes in a bowl that’s large enough so there is little overlap.  When they start the thaw, naturally the skin will thaw first, and it will slip right off.  Remove all the skins and leave the skinless tomatoes in the bowl until fully thawed.  The shrunken tomatoes will be sitting in a lot of nearly clear liquid — this is most of the water out of the tomatoes.  Take the tomatoes out, chop them, and use them in soup, to make tomato sauce, etc. as you like.  If the seeds bother you, strain them out.  If it concerns you that the water from the tomatoes has nutrients in it, use in it in soup — but it’s almost clear and flavorless so I don’t think there’s much to it.

Joint Health Virtues of Chicken Stock

DSCN0793When a chicken is stewed, the ends of the bones get soft, and some of the cartilage dissolves.  The dissolving chicken cartilage is why the finest chicken stock has the consistency of soft Jello when it’s refrigerated.  It stands to reason that the nutrients our joints need to rebuild themselves correctly (our whole body is constantly rebuilding itself) are the same that exist in animal joints.

Internet research will show that MSM, glucosamine and chondroitin all contribute to joint health, and are found in animal cartilage.  A sample site is shown here:

Do You Need Glucosamine? By Dr. Andrew Weil

From this article: “Glucosamine is found in shells of marine animals and in animal cartilage but does not occur naturally in abundance in foods that are commonly eaten in the U.S.”

Hunter-gatherers undoubtedly chewed bones and the cartilage on the ends of them.  Up until the last 50 years or so, soups and stews made from whole animals or bone stock were common fare.  The “foods that are commonly eaten in the U.S.” lack the joints of animals – a food that was a common part of our diet for tens of thousands of years.

Personally, I’m 57 years old, bone stocks have been a regular part of my diet for decades, and generally have no joint problems.  When I do, I realize I haven’t stewed a chicken in a while, see to that, and the minor problems are resolved.  Yes, this is anecdotal evidence.  No, I do not believe chicken stock has magical abilities to resolve genetic joint weaknesses, or replace surgery when needed.  But, adding a food back into our diets that our bodies were evolved to use can only help our joint heath, and may do more good than expected.  It certainly can’t hurt, and it tastes good!

Besides, making chicken stock is easy.

Put a whole chicken in a pot — cut up somewhat is best but not required.  If the chicken whole, pick a pot sized so there is little room around the chicken.  The skin can be left on; however, this will make a lot of fat that will have to be removed later and it’s easier to remove most of the skin from the chicken before stewing it.

Add water until the chicken is just barely covered, or maybe a little less.  Add a cup of dry white wine (optional), seasoning (optional) and a teaspoon of salt.  Red wine can be used but it will make the stock an odd brownish color.  Fresh thyme and a little rosemary from the garden are very nice, but go easy on the rosemary.  Garlic and onions can be used in making stock, but the flavors tend to fade so it’s generally better to add them to recipes later.

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Two Cockerels (young male chickens) from my Flock

Cover the pot and simmer the chicken for three or four hours — until the chicken is falling off the bone.  Turn the heat off and wait for it to cool.  Then strain the stock, pour it into a jars and refrigerate it.  When cold, the fat will be solid and on the top:  remove and discard.  The stock itself should be translucent and slightly solid – but if it’s not gelatin-like, use it anyway.  This simply means the nutrients you need are a little more diluted than ideal, but they are all still in there.

Try not to boil the chicken vigorously because this may cause the fat and stock to form an emulsion (a stable mixture).  I’ve read that some people think this is an old wives’ tale, but this old wife has seen it happen in her own pot.  A stock I knew had a lot of fat in it turned cloudy and there was no fat on the top after refrigeration.  Other times I’ve boiled a stewing chicken with no ill effect; however, simmering takes less energy to get the job done so it’s best all around to go for a nice steady simmer.  Should the stewing chicken boil, and should your stars be aligned such that the fat is emulsified in the stock, heat the stock up, whip up a few egg whites, and stir the egg whites into the hot stock.  The stock must be hot enough to quickly and thoroughly cook the eggs, but not boiling — again, a simmer is perfect.  Then turn the heat off.  When cool, strain the egg out and discard, and your stock should be clear.

DSCN0792Now that the stock is taken care of, separate the chicken meat from the bones.  The meat can be used in a recipe with the stock, or it can be made into chicken salad, sandwiches or anything else that you like.  Probably, as you separate the meat, you should salt and eat some of it to make sure it’s okay 😉  The remaining cartilage can be fed to your dogs, as their joints have nutritional needs, too.

The chicken stock can be used to make rice or quinoa, or soup, or stew.  If making soup or stew, it’s best to make the stock first so the bones and excess fat can be removed, and so the vegetables aren’t mushy and cooked to the point of being flavorless.

So why not just buy gelatin at the grocery store?  From Wikipedia, which matches information from other sites (italics added): “Gelatin is a mixture of peptides and proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs and fish.  During hydrolysis, the natural molecular bonds between individual collagen strands are broken down into a form that rearranges more easily. Its chemical composition is, in many respects, closely similar to that of its parent collagen. Photographic and pharmaceutical grades of gelatin are generally sourced from beef bones and pig skin.”

I am skeptical that partial hydrolysis of natural compounds will result in a product that is as accessible to your body as the original chemicals our bodies were designed to use.  Too many times we have been told human-made foods (hydrogenated fat, saccharine, etc.) were fine, even healthy, only to find out over time that they certainly were not.  Also, gelatin contains none of the other nutrients dissolved out of the bones and cartilage.  If given the choice, I will always choose to eat what our bodies were designed to process, and put my faith in nature.  Since God made nature, coming at it from a religious perspective leads me to the same conclusion.