29 August 2010
Every year for the last 10 years, the good people of Burkville, Alabama have gathered for an annual celebration of “the people’s vegetable.”
Burkville is a very small community in Lowndes County. It is just down the road from Montgomery, on the way to the county seat at Hayneville. The festival, which attracts hundreds of people on the last weekend in August, is very much like a big house party where neighbors gather to “chew the fat.” There is food, music, mule wagon rides for the children and a wonderful collection of art in Annie Mae’s Place. Every possible permutation of okra is available, from gumbo pots to pickled delicacies.
I was supposed to do a genealogy workshop, but that didn’t work out. I couldn’t compete with the soulful blues being belted out by Sonny Boy King!
By way of history, gumbo is the African name for what we call okra. It was brought to the North American continent by slave ships. Originating in what is now Ethiopia, the word is thought to derive from “quillobo,” which is the indigenous name for the okra plant in central Africa. The words “Gumbo” and “Callaloo” are often used to describe something that is mixed up. This is, no doubt, how the dish so many of us love got it’s name.
In case you didn’t know, okra has many healthful attributes.
It lowers bad cholesterol and keeps the intestinal track clean, which reduces the risks of heart disease and colorectal cancer.
For those of you who turn up your nose at okra’s sliminess, I have a proven method for eliminating it. Just trim the okra above the line between the cap and the pod then soak it in lemon juice before cooking.
There are many other communities that have okra festivals, including Mobile, New Orleans and Birmingham. But the fun for me is in Burkville, which is nearest to my ancestral roots.
For more information on the festival, go to http://www.okrafestival.org/home.html and start planning your trip for next year!