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Cowhorn okra is a medium to large varietal with the ability to grow anywhere from 20 to 36 centimeters in length. The slender, tapering pods grow upright and have a straight nature when they first form, and as they lengthen, they develop a slight curve or twist that points the tip of the pod toward the sky. Cowhorn okra is typically harvested when the pods are between 20 to 25 centimeters in length. The pods have thin, smooth, and lightly ribbed skin. Underneath the surface, there are six hollow sections extending the length of the pod, and the pale green compartments house tiny seeds. Cowhorn okra has a crisp, tender, and non-fibrous consistency, even when grown to long lengths, which is unusual for okra varieties. The pods have a vegetal, grassy, and green flavor reminiscent of asparagus.
Cowhorn okra is available in the late summer through early winter.
Cowhorn okra, botanically classified as Abelmoschus esculentus, is an heirloom variety belonging to the Malvaceae or mallow family. The elongated pods develop on bushy plants that can reach up to three meters in height and were first grown in the United States in the 19th century. Cowhorn okra received its animal moniker from the pod’s upright, slightly curved shape, reminiscent of a cow’s horn. The variety is also known as Texas Cow Horn okra and Cow’s Horn okra and is an early producing cultivar valued by growers for its large, tender pods. Cowhorn okra pods develop 50 to 55 days after sowing and will snap easily off the stem when mature. The pods are typically grown in home gardens and are produced on a small scale through select growers for sale at local markets. Cowhorn okra pods can be used in a wide variety of culinary preparations, and the dried pods are also incorporated into flower arrangements to add texture, shape, and color.
Cowhorn okra is a source of antioxidants to reduce inflammation and protect the cells against free radical damage and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The pods also contain vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, vitamin K to assist in faster wound healing, and other nutrients, including B vitamins, manganese, and potassium.
Cowhorn okra has a fresh, vegetal flavoring suited for raw and cooked preparations. Young, shorter Cowhorn okra is best for pickling and can be fermented into a tangy topping or condiment. The shorter pods, ranging from 12 to 17 centimeters in length, are also good for raw applications, sliced into salads, served with dips, or chopped into salsas and relish. Longer pods, averaging 20 to 25 centimeters in length, develop a tougher consistency and are preferred for cooked dishes, including gumbos, soups, stews, and stir-fries. It is important to note that when the pods are cooked, they release a gelatinous substance that acts as a thickener in soups and stews. Cowhorn okra can also be battered and fried, incorporated into casseroles, cooked with tomatoes and served over rice, or stewed as a side dish to roasted meats. In addition to fresh preparations, Cowhorn okra can be dehydrated or dried in the oven. Allowing the pods to dry out will make them less slimy when cut. Cowhorn okra pairs well with meats such as beef, poultry, pork, and lamb, spices including oregano, coriander, curry powder, and cumin, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn, and aromatics such as garlic, onions, ginger, and shallots. Whole, unwashed okra pods will keep 2 to 3 days when loosely wrapped and stored in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer. The pods can also be blanched and frozen for extended use.
In the southern United States, the Fife Creek Cowhorn is an heirloom variety with a memorable narrative. The okra’s story begins in Kentucky on a farm that belonged to the Fife family. Around 1900, a woman from the indigenous Creek tribe was said to have visited the farm. The woman gave the Fife family okra seeds as a thank you for their hospitality. The Fife family planted the seeds and were amazed by the okra’s long shape and tender nature. The family also honored the woman by naming the variety after her heritage. The Creek tribe was a nomadic people group that lived in and around Georgia, Alabama, and Florida before the Europeans first came to the New World. Today, there are two primary Creek tribes, one in Alabama and one in Oklahoma. This story was featured in several seed catalogs that once sold the variety, but it is unclear whether it was an actual event or a fictional story. Regardless of the truth, Fife Creek Cowhorn okras are still a popular variety in southern gardens in the present day.
Okra is thought to have originated in eastern Africa, around what is now Ethiopia. The plant was later spread throughout Africa, into India, and across the Atlantic to the New World through the slave trade. Cowhorn okra is a variety that likely came to the United States during the time of slavery, though the variety was only first introduced around the time of the Civil War in the United States. Its exact origins are unknown, with some experts hypothesizing that the variety was first recognized and named in the southern United States. Cowhorn okra is a rare variety, most often available through seed companies or passed down through farming families in the south. The cultivar is an open-pollinated variety that thrives in rich, well-drained soil in a hot and humid climate. When in season, Cowhorn okra can be found in farmers markets and home gardens throughout the southern United States.
Recipes that include Cowhorn Okra. One is easiest, three is harder.
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