Boiled okra has a reputation for being slimy. Many people survived on okra in the depression years of the 1930s, and the phrase arose: “I ate so much okra I slid out of bed!” Some people prefer the less slimy fried okra instead.
Roy Blount Jr.’s ode “To Okra” in the July 1976 Atlantic Monthly hints that if you eat too much okra, you’ll have trouble keeping your socks up.
Food Tale: Okra
Okra, related to the hibiscus and a member of the mallow family, is native to tropical Africa or Asia--and was cultivated by the Egyptians in the 12 century AD. It slowly traveled south into the central lands of Africa; north and west to Mediterranean lands and ultimately to the Balkans; and east to the subcontinent of India.
It arrived in the United States in the 18th century with the slave trade, on a ship filled with Bantu tribes people. In no time at all it became a cornerstone in southern cooking, Texan cuisine, and perhaps most especially the distinctive Cajun cooking of Louisiana.
It still grows wild in Ethiopia and Sudan, just as it did in prehistoric times. Its plants, related to cotton, were carried to India and Egypt where they are still used in cooking oil and as a coffee substitute.
Today okra is used commercially as a hidden ingredient: it is the mucilage in catsup that makes it so hard to get out of the bottle.
Okay, here’s the whole stupid “Song to Okra” by Roy Blount, Jr.:
Old Homer Ogletree’s so high
On okra he keeps lots laid by.
He keeps it in a safe he locks up,
He eats so much, can’t keep his socks up.
(Which goes to show it’s no misnomer
When people call him Okra Homer.
Texas Cooking - Grandma’s Cookbook
Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
Okra is not well-known outside the southern states, which is understandable in that it’s a hot-weather crop. Fried okra, of course, is immensely popular and has gained fame even in northern climes, but real okra lovers appreciate its flavor when it is stewed—that is, cooked slowly with a little liquid. Okra can be stewed alone or with other vegetables, most notably tomatoes. Ideally, you should have small pods of fresh okra and big, juicy tomatoes for this recipe to be at its best.
People try to be kind to okra by describing its texture as “silky,” a euphemism, to be sure. There’s no getting around it: okra, especially stewed okra is slimey. There should be another word that does it justice, but I’m afraid the English language is lacking. But I refuse to defend okra. It’s delicious—so much so that I enjoy that slimey texture. There’s an old one-liner about okra that goes like this: When I was a kid, I ate so much okra I couldn’t keep my socks up.
1981 (?), Atlantic Monthly, pg. 586:
‘I never had nary a cent in 1932,’ a cropper told me, ‘and I et so much okra I slid out of bed.
13 November 1966, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Tolbert’s Texas” by Frank X. Tolbert, section A, pg. 29:
IN OKRA, ON Sabana Creek, I was told that the village was so labeled because an early settler and postmaster named Levi McCulloch found the soil was well suited for raising the slippery vegetable, “and in the old days they ate so much okra they nearly slid out of bed.”
20 November 1967, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Tolbert’s Texas” by Frank X. Tolbert, section D, pg. 1:
But when they pass the stewed okra I say no. Slimy, slick stuff. A popular saying during the early 1930’s business depression was: “I ate so much okra I nearly slid out of bed.”
13 April 1972, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “On an Okra Recipe and Florida Road Rally” by Frank X. Tolbert, section A, pg. 17:
Most cooks don’t know how to prepare okra. And it comes out slimy for them. Slimy and slick. In fact there was an old East Texas saying popular during The Great Depression: “I ate so much okra I nearly slid out of bed.”
28 June 1977, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Tolbert’s Texas” by Frank X. Tolbert, section D, pg. 3:
“I ate so much okra I slid out of bed”
9 July 1977, Dallas (TX) Morning News “Okra Town and Some Poems Praising Okra” by Frank X. Tolbert, section D, pg. 3:
MRS. HELEN ROGERS of Arlington sent me a poem about okra by Roy Blount, Jr., published in the July 1976 issue of the august Atlantic Monthly.
“I don’t even like the stuff—okra that is,” Mrs. Rogers wrote. “But in my opinion the poem on okra by Roy Blount Jr. in the Atlantic Monthly is a dilly.”
I hope that Mr. Blount and the Atlantic Monthly don’t mind if I print a few sample verses from the poem called “To Okra”:
“Old Homer Ogletree’s so high on okra he keeps lots laid by...He keeps it in a safe he locks up, he eats so much, can’t keep his socks up… (Which goes to show it’s no misnomer when people call him Okra Homer.)”
17 March 1987, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA):
“I’ve eaten so much okra I have to put sand in my bed to keep from slipping out.”
Google Groups: soc.motss
Date: Tue, 1 Feb 1994 21:47:16 GMT
Local: Tues, Feb 1 1994 5:47 pm
Subject: Re: Okra Winfrey (was: I *hate* beets (was Re: Glory Holes))
“County Comic” Jerry Clower said he ate so much “slick, slimy boiled okra” as a child that he couldn’t keep his socks up.... How appetizing!
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Subject: Re: WHO LOVES A FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST???
BTW, have you heard the southern comedian who claims to have eaten so much okra as a child that he can’t keep his socks up?
17 November 2003, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA):
John A. Rooney III of Portland, Texas, says, “When I was a kid, my mother fed us so much okra that she had to throw sand in our beds to keep us from sliding out.”
Johnny Caker’s Journal
2005-08-04 - 9:23 p.m.
At supper Mom told a joke that her grandfather loved. Did you hear about the fella who loved boiled okra so much that he ate it every day? Well, he couldn’t keep his socks up! Get it? Boiled okra is slimey!
30 March 2006, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), pg. B1:
T. G. Gaylor offers this from Jerry Clower: “My mama and grandma fed me so much boiled okra that I couldn’t keep my socks up.”
Leon Hale (Houston Chronicle blog)
October 03, 2006
It’s better if you fry it
Finicky. There’s a curious adjective, but I’ve been familiar with it a long time because when I was a kid I was often called a finicky eater.
I wouldn’t eat boiled okra, for instance. It was slick and looked slimy and the sight of people eating the stuff gave me the fantods. Do you really like boiled okra? Ugh.
you know what Jerry Clower said about boiled okra? “I ate so much as a kid my socks would not stay up.”
Posted by: barbara at October 4, 2006 05:58 AM
Food Network Forums
Re: Really Nice, Easy Chicken and Rice
Wed, 25 October 2006 13:43
I know I must have already brought this up, but have you heard the comedian (his name escapes me) say, “I ate so much okra as a child I couldn’t keep my socks up?” Hahaha! Fried okra that I have had is just breading with a little seedy slime in it!
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Thursday, October 18, 2007 • Permalink
Th eonly way i like to cook okra is the following:
60g/2oz gram flour (chickpea flour)
400g/14oz okra, wiped clean with damp kitchen roll, topped and tailed
vegetable oil, for frying
1 tsp chaat masala (’snack spice’ - a spice mixture available readymade from Asian grocers)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp red chilli powder
¼ tsp dried mango powder (also sold as amchoor, available from Asian grocers)
1. Place the gram flour in a shallow bowl. Slice the okra pieces lengthwise into quarters and toss them in the gram flour.
2. Pour the oil into a large saucepan to a depth of approximately 2.5cm/1in and heat until a breadcrumb will sizzle gently when placed into the oil. Add the okra to the pan and fry until the okra is crisp and golden-brown, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove the okra with a slotted spoon and place it into a large bowl lined with kitchen roll. Sprinkle over the chaat masala, salt, chilli and dried mango powder and toss well. Serve hot.