Every year we try out a few new crops or new varieties of things we’ve always grown. It’s a constant experiment to find what is suitable for our climate and productive enough to earn a permanent spot on the planting plan. Okra is a staple of our summer production, and one that we’re testing a new variety of this year.
‘Gold Coast’ is a variety of okra that was developed in Louisiana around 1960. It has a deep root system, which makes it tolerant of drought. The deep roots are also supposed to make it more resistant to root-knot nematodes, which okra are notoriously susceptible to. We think we’ve been experiencing nematode-related losses in our okra production the last couple of summers, so when I was flipping through seed catalogs last winter and read the blurb about nematode-resistance in ‘Gold Coast’ okra, I knew this was one to try.
It’s doing great so far. A few plants have died back, showing symptoms of our okra of years past that may be due to nematode infestation. However, compared to the couple of rows of ‘Clemson Spineless’ we’re also growing this year, ‘Gold Coast’ is the clear winner.
Okra is in the mallow family, a relative to cotton, hibiscus, and even marsh-mallow, from which confectionery marshmallows were originally made. Although the exact origin of okra is disputed (thought to be Ethiopia, Egypt, West Africa, or southeast Asia), ‘Gold Coast’ okra was named for the region in Africa where okra likely gets its name. Regardless of where okra originated, it traveled west with the slave trade, and was recorded as being cultivated in Brazil in 1658 and Suriname in 1686, reaching North America shortly thereafter. It is thus strongly associated with the Deep South, though will grow well up north, albeit with a shorter harvest window.
It’s well known for its use in gumbo and for being fried or pickled. I personally like it simply sauteed with onions and tomatoes (eggplant optional too), and served over rice.