Summer in the Deep South is no joke. Yes, we have splendid winters, and spring is nice, but summer is a wee bit challenging. Of course the oppressive heat and humidity give us something about which to complain. Chronic complainers have no shortage of material.
The trade-off is that we harvest all sorts of fruits and vegetables that are divine in their own right, but they’re also iconic. Their notability is known far and wide. For instance, if you want muscadine grapes, you need to come see us. They love our warm climate and perform well for us, but they tend to be finicky for gardeners with a northern address. We have a small muscadine arbor that we love. We’re not the only ones that love it. We have squirrels, birds, and who knows what else that are downright gluttonous. We don’t mind sharing our garden haul with them but they forget they are supposed to share and not raid. This year, we were left with but a double handful of grapes. My usual muscadine jelly won’t happen this year. I suppose we should think about netting to protect next year’s harvest.
Another summer-loving vegetable that’s one of my favorites is okra. It stands up to the heat and humidity in a way that’s admirable. During peak season, you have to harvest okra pods every day. Seemingly, they grow by gigantic proportions overnight. I’ve never met an okra pod cooked in any of a variety of methods that I didn’t love. Throw me some okra anyway you please and I’m a happy individual.
In my younger days, my palate didn’t tolerate much in the way of heat. In fact, it was downright wimpish. Anything hotter than ground black pepper wasn’t to my liking. As my palate matured, I looked for ways to incorporate moderate heat instead of heading for the hills any time spicy food is passed around.
Hot peppers are common among Southern kitchen gardens. I’ve seen many tiny little women eat peppers so hot I was afraid their heads would blow off their shoulders. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve witnessed many big ol’ Southern boys consume peppers so hot I was afraid they would dehydrate from the buckets of sweat that poured off their heads. I suppose the lesson learned is that body size has no bearing on the heat tolerance of the mouth or anything beyond the gullet. Hot is hot, and it burns today and will burn tomorrow too.
So this batch of fritters I whipped up had just the right amount of heat to make them tolerable and pleasing to my semi-wimpish palate. For more heat, leave in the seeds and membranes of the jalapeño. For less heat, remove them all.
As we make it through Deep South summers the best way we can by moaning, groaning, complaining, and consuming our bounty of summertime produce, may we never overlook the beauty of God’s creation. I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of a Black Swallowtail butterfly freshly emerged from its chrysalis and drying its wings on my sage plant before it takes off on its life’s journey.
Summertime. Okra, muscadines, and butterflies. It’s really a beautiful time of the year.
Okra Jalapeño Fritters
Fritters are small bits of batter loaded with fruits or vegetables and fried until the outside is crispy but the inside remains soft. A combination of okra, sweet onions and jalapeño peppers make tasty fritters. Comeback Sauce is the best dipping sauce for these little nuggets.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup stone ground corn meal
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sliced okra
1/2 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 medium jalapeño pepper, minced
1/4 cup buttermilk
Add flour, corn meal and salt to a bowl and stir.
To flour mixture, add okra, onions and jalapeño pepper. Stir until vegetables are coated.
Whisk buttermilk and egg. Pour over vegetable mixture. Stir until dry ingredients are wet.
Add enough of cooking oil to a large cast iron skillet for 1/2 inches deep and heat to 350 degrees.
Drop a scant tablespoon of mixture into hot oil. Press flat with the back of the spoon. Don’t crowd in the pan. Work in batches.
Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until brown on one side.
Flip and repeat.
Remove and drain on wire rack. Sprinkle with coarse salt.