I don’t remember where my wife, Liz, got the idea to make okra Santa Claus ornaments. For all I know, it came to her in a dream. More likely, it came in the back pages of some craft magazine. But I do remember that when she described how to combine two of my favorite things (Christmas and okra) and save money in the process (which is at least my fourth favorite thing), I was sold.
It was late July in Eastern Kentucky, months away from Yuletide. That’s the time of year when it’s impossible to keep up with the output of a healthy okra patch (doubly true if your garden also contains zucchini). Try as we may, some of the okra always turns tough on the plant before we can pick it.
Okra past its prime has the consistency of cornstalks. It’s useless. Unless, it turns out, you want to use it to make a Christmas ornament. In that case, the husk looks like a long Santa beard, with a perfect stocking cap on top.
Some paint, white caulk or drywall compound, and string or ribbon are all you need. Mother Nature and the fibrous hull of case-hardened okra do the rest.
As I recall, our okra ornaments were a very popular Christmas token at work the year we made them. They were easily as well loved as tatted snowflakes and far more lasting than a batch of fudge.
The added advantage of okra Christmas ornaments is that they are resilient — tougher than a department store fruitcake. Drop it from an eight-foot Douglas fir and see which dents first, the okra or your hardwood floor. Try that with your dainty hand-blown bulbs and crystal snowflakes.
Okra has so many fine attributes — steamed, boiled in soup, or, my favorite, battered and deep fried. To think that it also makes a solid contribution to holiday handicrafts makes it a pretty hard act to follow.
Unless someone comes up with a zucchini creche, okra gets my vote for world’s best vegetable.