Pickling has long been part of the South’s culinary traditions, and perhaps no pickled vegetable is more thoroughly southern than okra, which grows with abandon throughout the region. “Eating okra is like breathing,” says Atlanta-based chef and cookbook author, Virginia Willis. “It’s just one of those traditional southern ingredients that you’ll find in almost every backyard garden.” Tangy, crunchy pickled okra adds a dose of regional flavor to a Bloody Mary, and this recipe, adapted from Willis’ Bon Appetite, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking, balances the garden-fresh veggie with a potent pinch of mustard seeds, garlic cloves and chile peppers.
Wash 2 lbs. of medium okra pods and trim the stems to ½ inch.
Place 1 chile, ½ tsp. of mustard seed, ¼ tsp. of peppercorns and 2 cloves of garlic in the bottom of each of 4 sterilized pint-sized canning jars.
Divide the okra evenly among the jars, placing the pods vertically and alternating the stems up and down. Pack them tightly so they won’t float when you add the liquid.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring 4 cups of distilled white vinegar, 2 cups of water and 2 Tbsp. of pickling salt to a boil. Stir to dissolve the salt.
Pour the boiling mixture over the packed okra, leaving ¼ inch of space between the liquid and the top of the jar. Wipe the jar rims. Set the lid on the rim of the jar and screw on the ring. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 month. Alternatively, process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes (steps 6 and 7).
Place the jars in the rack in the stovetop water-bath canner; add enough water so the jars are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Continue boiling, covered, for 15 minutes. Start timing only after the water is boiling.
After processing, turn off the heat and remove the lid from off the canner. Using the tongs, remove the jars and place them on a towel to cool. When the jars seal properly, the lid will be slightly concave once cool. If the jars haven’t sealed properly, refrigerate and use within 1 month. Store unopened, processed jars at room temperature up to 1 year. Makes 4 pints.
Tip: If fresh okra is unavailable in your area, you can order it year-round from specialty produce sites, such as Melissas.com. And if you can’t find Thai bird chiles, Mexican chiles de árbol work just as well.