Okra’s Deeply Rooted History in Southern Cuisine

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(Southern Partisan) – Southern cuisine is beloved far outside of just the geographical confines of the American South for its delicious, comforting, buttery, rich flavors and dishes that don’t just fill us up but feed the soul, too. But, Southern cuisine did not develop in a vacuum — far from it. The cuisine took from, was inspired by, and is the result of many colliding cultures and cuisines including Native American, African, and countless others. The diverse ingredients, methods, and flavors create what we today collectively call Southern cooking.Okra is a prime example of a food that’s ostensibly Southern in nature but actually has a long and complex history.

The thousands-year old vegetable originated in Africa, where it flourished and even grew wild across the continent. It landed in the southern states as a direct result of the Transatlantic slave trade. When enslaved people were brought from Africa to North America, the crop was brought along with them. By the early 1700s, Okra had arrived in the American South, where it would thrive in the warm growing climate and spread as far North as Philadelphia. By 1760, okra had solidified its place as a common sight on American dinner tables, which we know from entries in botanical journals and even a reference from Thomas Jefferson, whose enslaved people grew and cooked with Okra at the Monticello plantation according to…

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