Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Eat What You Grow

This Black Beauty eggplant is a reliable producer here in The South.

This Black Beauty eggplant is a reliable producer here in The South.

Most of us tend to plan our gardens, at some point, by leafing through a seed catalog and picking what we like to eat. While “Grow what you like” is certainly a good way to start, a more realistic plan is to “Like what you grow”.

I have heard it said that there are places where one can grow just about anything. Unfortunately, I have never lived in such a place, so the best plan for me is to find what grows well here and focus on that. Once I find what grows well here, the focus then shifts to finding ways to prepare it so that we enjoy eating it.

I was never really fond of eggplant, but in the hottest part of the summer, eggplant is one of the very few things that thrives in the heat. I have never had any problems growing eggplant. It seems to repel bugs and I’ve never seen any disease. Aside from very mild heat wilt in the hottest part of the day, the heat doesn’t bother it. In addition, it produces a lot of fruit with just a few plants. Another plant with similar characteristics is okra. Since that is what grows well here, our focus then shifted to finding ways to make the best use of those crops.

Laura always seems to find a way to prepare a meal that I am sure to love. With eggplant, she slices it into thin slices, coats it with flour, then dips it in egg, then in seasoned bread crumbs. She then fries it in a cast iron skillet (cast iron is a requirement for any Southern kitchen worthy of the name) until the outside is nice and crispy. Add a bit of coarse-ground sea salt and serve. It is delicious.

Okra is even simpler – she cuts it into sections, fries it in oil, then salt and serve. Fried and breaded okra is, of course, one of the classics, but this is such a simple and delicious way to prepare it that it has become our standard. For a bit of variety, try okra gumbo – the acid in the tomato cuts the “slime” that makes many folks turn away from okra.

The key here is to shift the focus from trying to grow “favorites” that don’t do well where you are, to finding ways to really enjoy what does grow well at your location. Our next experiment will be Seminole Pumpkin – a staple of the early Seminole Indians here in Florida.


  1. Kyle in Ellijay

    In between “breaded” okra and the simpler preparation you mention here is okra lightly “dusted” in corn meal, salt, and cracked pepper. It’s the way my mom did it, and I can’t have it any other way – I dump the whole bag – all of the cornmeal too – into hot oil in a cast iron. It is out of this world, crazy good!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I know this may come as a shock to you – as it did to me – but there are actually people in this world who don’t like okra. Amazing…

      Okra can almost be like eating popcorn – almost addictive.

  2. Kyle in Ellijay

    I have found that people who claim to not like okra, or grits, or for that matter turnip greens (this list can go on and on) often have never had it prepared correctly.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I’ll have to agree with you on that. My earliest experiences with okra would have turned me off completely from ever eating them again. Fortunately, my mother tried different ways until she learned about how to get rid of the “slime”. I still haven’t had greens prepared in a way that I enjoy them. I like growing collard greens just because it is such a beautiful plant, but it isn’t something I enjoy eating – yet.

  3. Kyle in Ellijay

    For me, greens, cooked down for hours, seasoned with fatback, salt, and pepper — served over hot cornbread and drizzled with pepper vinegar is out of this world.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I’ll have to continue encouraging my wife to experiment until we find a way to prepare them that I like. Thanks!

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