"It is the principal ingredient in most of the soops, and pepper-pots, made in America; dishes frequently used in those parts of the world"
--Patrick Brown, English Author of Civil and Natural History of Jamaica (1756)

...Okra's green,
Goes down with ease.
Forget cuisine
Say "Okra , please."

You can have strip pokra,
Give me a nice girl and a dish of okra.
--Roy Blount, Jr., in "Song to Okra"

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(Abelmoschus esculentus)

Okra, related to the hibiscus and a member of the mallow family, is native to tropical Africa or Asia--and was cultivated by the Egyptians in the 12 century AD. It slowly traveled south into the central lands of Africa; north and west to Mediterranean lands and ultimately to the Balkans; and east to the subcontinent of India.

It arrived in the United States in the 18th century with the slave trade, on a ship filled with Bantu tribes people. In no time at all it became a cornerstone in southern cooking, Texan cuisine, and perhaps most especially the distinctive Cajun cooking of Louisiana.

It still grows wild in Ethiopia and Sudan, just as it did in prehistoric times. Its plants, related to cotton, were carried to India and Egypt where they are still used in cooking oil and as a coffee substitute.

Today okra is used commercially as a hidden ingredient: it is the mucilage in catsup that makes it so hard to get out of the bottle.

Okay, here's the whole stupid "Song to Okra" by Roy Blount, Jr.:

String beans are good, and ripe tomatoes,
And collard greens and sweet potatoes,
Sweet corn, field peas, and squash and beets--
But when a man rears back and
He wants okra.

Good old okra.

Oh wow okra, yessiree,
Okra is Okay with me.

Oh okra's favored far and wide,
Oh you can eat it boiled or fried,
Oh either slick or crisp inside,
Oh I once a knew a man who died
Without okra.

Little pepper-sauce on it,
Oh! I wan' it:

Old Homer Ogletree's so high
On okra he keeps lots laid by.
He keeps it in a safe he locks up,
He eats so much, can't keep his socks up.
(Which goes to show it's no misnomer
When people call him Okra Homer.

Oh you can make some gumbo wit' it,
But most of all I like to git it
All by itself in its own juice,
And lying there all nice and loose--
That's okra!

It may be poor for eating chips with,
It may be hard to come to grips with,
But okra's such a wholesome food
It straightens out your attitude.

"Mm!" is how discerning folk re-
Spond when they are served some okra.

Okra's green,
Goes down with ease.
Forget cuisine
Say "Okra , please."

You can have strip pokra,
Give me a nice girl and a dish of okra.