As vegetables, go, okra tends to be more polarizing than most: either you adore its slippery goodness or think slippery is just a nice way to say slimy.
Besides having a notable texture, okra has something of a history. It’s a member of the mallow family of plants; kissing cousins include hibiscus, cotton and hollyhocks. Okra is surprisingly high in calcium and its flavor is said to fall someplace between asparagus and eggplant.
Okra was first cultivated in the 12th century BC in what is now Ethiopia; food historians trace okra’s introduction into the United States to slaves brought from West Africa, who used it to thicken stews and other dishes. It grew well in South Carolina’s hot climate and soon became a staple.
So much so that in the 1970s, the Woman’s Club of Irmo decided to hold a small arts and crafts fair to raise money to build a new library. In homage to radio personality Gene McKay, who had made an on-air joke about okra, they named the festival the Okra Strut and served fried okra to hungry visitors.
It took seven years, and thousands of servings of fried okra, but the Woman’s Club eventually raised the money they needed. Today, the Okra Strut continues.
This year’s festival begins Friday at 6 p.m. and will feature $15 all-you-can-ride carnival rides, performances by The Blue Pickups and Atlanta Rhythm Section and, besides okra, lots of terrific food. Saturday kicks off at 9 a.m. with a parade; the festival’s rides and entertainment (a performance by the Columbia Marionette Theatre, music from The Terence Young Experience, an okra eating contest and more) starts at 10.
All events will be held at Irmo Community Park and are free.
For more information, visit www.theokrastrut.com.