Fried Okra Productions--what it means

Several folks have asked me why I chose the title Fried Okra Productions. There are two parts to the story.

My maternal grandparents had a great deal to do with instilling independence and self-reliance in their granddaughters. My grandfather came from a farming community in North Texas, and my grandmother's father was a school teacher and wood cutter in Arkansas. I learned how to cook from hanging with my Mamaw in her kitchen in Greenville, Texas.

Papaw always had a kitchen garden, plowing and planting the right-of-way situated between their house and the railroad tracks. Every year they grew squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, peppers of all kinds, onions, and lots of other yummy veggies. Mamaw put up much of the food, shelving it in a little storeroom Papaw built especially for that purpose off the kitchen. Her piccalilli was the best in the state.

She did use recipes, but frequently measured dry ingredients with her hand: a handful of flour was about one cup, and the depression in the palm of your hand was about one teaspoon. That's how I learned how to make cornbread. A handful of flour, one of cornmeal, a teaspoon each of salt and sugar, two to four teaspoons of baking powder, one egg, and a cup or so of "sweet milk," as opposed to buttermilk.

The oven would be preheated to 350 degrees, and some sort of shortening or fat would be in the baking dish in the oven heating while the ingredients were being mixed. When she was ready to pop it into the oven, she would take out the baking pan, pour the grease into the mixture, stir, and pour all back in the pan. At about 20 minutes, she would stick a kitchen knife (not sharp) into the middle of the pan, and if it came out clean, it meant it was ready. If some of the batter stuck to the knife, it needed another 10 minutes or so. At that temperature, the color of the crust was a pretty good indication of doneness. I also learned that when it was cooked, the loaf would pull away slightly from the pan.

My favorite dish was Mamaw's fried okra. Mamaw's was always delicious. The okra had to be fresh and whole. She would prepare a plate or small paper bag with cornmeal and a bit of salt. Then she would cut the stem end off, and slice the pod crosswise into bite-sized morsels. Grease would be heating in a cast iron skillet, and she would cut and shake only enough for one layer in the skillet at a time.

The okra would be turned from time to time to brown crisply and evenly, then scooped onto a paper towel to absorb the excess grease. These crunchy little nuggets had a nutty flavor, and I adored them. These days, it's usually pre-breaded, using flour, and not especially noteworthy. Nothing like the "real" thing.

Mamaw's fried okra, along with Papaw's fried squash, which was prepared similarly, were the mainstays of summer meals. A typical "Mamaw supper" was fresh black-eyed peas, cornbread, collard greens, green scallions, and fried okra. For dessert, we'd crumble a piece of cornbread into a glass of sweet milk. Healthy and scrumptious.

The love and good eating made a lasting impression. I still cook using my hands to measure. That's the first part of the story.

The second part is a relatively recent adventure. Fred Tackett, musician/composer extraordinaire, who is now part of the legendary Little Feat, introduced me to the original group back when they first got started. Over the years, I've come to know and love the other band members. At one of their Austin concerts, I learned that drummer Richie Hayward's son, Severn, who was also Fred's son's best friend, had sustained extensive traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a horrific auto accident, and that they were having a difficult time getting the therapy he needed to function.

As fate would have it, my brother in law is heavily involved with the Brain Injury Association of Texas, or BIATx, and proposed combining the two groups to benefit both Sev and BIATx. The idea was accepted, and we formed Fried Okra Productions to manage the endeavor.

Things were proceeding apace when I suffered a f2f meeting with a concrete garage floor, which resulted in a broken arm, two sprained wrists, and a torn ACL in my good knee. That put me out of commission for quite some time, and the collaboration has been on hold ever since. I would love to get the benefit going again, but it will take more time and energy than I can spare at the moment.

Not to let a good title go to waste, I decided it would be appropriate for my blog. Now, if I can just find a good photo of fried okra prepared properly...


Kay Dennison said...

What a lovely story about your grandparents! And I love the foundation you and your friends have started!

And a big Arrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!!!!! regarding you injuries. Here's hoping you're mending well and will be back to full tilt boogie mode soon!

So many people have such cool, creative names for their blogs -- it makes me think mine is dreadfully mundane! I hate mundane! lol

Joared said...

Great story about the derivation of your blog name.

Certainly hope you're recovering from your personal calamity. Also hope the young man with the TBI is getting the much needed therapy. Having worked with such cases myself, I know what the long term needs can be. In today's health care system the challenges of gaining funding is no small task for providers and family.

kokopelliwoman said...

Joared, the young man lives in CA, so you know better than I what he is facing. A small factoid I learned when researching TBI is that there are many sports celebrities who suffer from TBI, but are afraid that their careers will suffer if that becomes known. As a result, their fear keeps them from collaborating with TBI caregivers and foundations. Such a shame, as I believe they could help boost interest and funding.

ClickBrain said...

Love that fried okra. I grew up in Oklahoma and North Texas and my Grandma used to make it by hand too with fresh Okra from their garden. My wife is now a convert and like most people never imagined she would like it since her only exposure to okra was stewed - yuck. I've never met someone that tried fried okra and didn't like it.

You made me hungry!


kokopelliwoman said...

Too right, Brad! Okra gets a bad rap because it's not prepared well, I think. I'd never eat it out of a can, and I don't particularly love the stewed tomatoes and okra dish. I can handle the Indian recipe that also adds some great spices to that duo, though. Good on you for guiding another convert toward one of the brightest stars in vegetable land :)