In season: okra

A lot of folks say they don’t like okra, but the deer at New Moon Farms just south of Loganville love it. They also love green beans, watermelon, cucumbers and sunflowers. And they don’t even wait for the vegetables to grow or the sunflowers to blossom. They just nibble the young plants right down to the ground.

That’s been Mike Moon’s experience this year. About the middle of May, he planted 10 200-foot long rows of okra, each seed dropped in six inches from its neighbor. That’s 2,000 row feet of okra. And no sooner did the plants come up, then the deer came in and ate the tender young seedlings.

They didn’t stop there, taking on the green beans as well. “I usually have bushels and bushels of green beans,” Mike Moon said. “This year, I didn’t get the first bean. It’s been pretty crazy.”

The land he’s farming has been in the family since the early 1800s.

“The original Moon who bought the land is buried on the property here,” he said. “My granddad purchased 100 acres from his uncle in the 1940s and paid for the land by growing soybeans, cotton and wheat. He wanted all his grandkids to grow up on the farm and gave each of his children 4 acres to build a house and the grandchildren got 2 acres each. I grew up here.”

Now a firefighter in Loganville, Moon has 13 more years until retirement and is planning to keep farming right up until retirement and beyond. He hopes to pass along at least some of the land to his children.

And he isn’t giving up on okra. In mid-July he prepared to plant okra again, although this time under plastic mulch. He’s growing Clemson spineless green okra, the same variety his grandfather planted when Moon was a young child.

“I’m hoping the deer are tired of okra. This time I’m planting the okra under plasticulture,” Moon said. “The rows are covered with plastic, and then we go down the rows poking holes in the plastic every six inches and drop in a seed. Pull the dirt over the seed and go on to the next. In a few days, the okra will come up. We fertilize the plants through the drip line and the plastic mulch keeps the weed pressure down.”

If a farmer keeps his okra picked, he’ll have new pods coming along right up until frost. Picking okra can be an itchy job, although Moon doesn’t find himself bothered by the prickly hairs of the okra plants. His mother and wife don’t have the same immunity, so they use gloves when they’re harvesting.

As for eating okra, Moon says the only way he really likes it is fried. “I’ve tried it cooked on the grill, and growing up my mom would boil it. That’s not for me. Fried is my way.”

Fortunately, his customers like okra prepared in many different ways. He sells to restaurants like Graft in Grayson, to local produce stands like Three Peas in a Pod in Loganville and to local residents.

And he takes it to his booth at the Saturday morning Snellville Farmers Market. His new crop should be ready to harvest in early September, if the deer will let the plants grow.

Jenn Robbins’ Skillet-Roasted Okra with Grainy Mustard and Curry Vinaigrette

Robbins is a loyal supporter of local farmers and farmers markets. Well-known for her chef demos around town, she created this recipe for a demo at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market.

1 pound okra

Olive oil

Kosher salt

1/4 cup Grainy Mustard and Curry Vinaigrette (see recipe)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a large cast iron skillet in oven to heat at the same time.

Prepare the okra by removing any tough ends and cutting in half lengthwise. Add enough olive oil and salt to just coat the spears. When the oven is preheated and the skillet is hot, remove skillet from oven and add okra. Do not crowd pan. Return skillet to oven and leave it there 3 to 4 minutes, then toss the okra. Return it to the oven and cook another minute or two. You are looking for okra that still has a bit of crunch but also is nicely browned. Move okra to a large bowl and toss with vinaigrette immediately. Repeat with remaining okra. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately. Serves: 6

Per serving: 130 calories (percent of calories from fat, 77), 2 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 78 milligrams sodium.

Grainy Mustard and Curry Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

1 shallot, very finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon Madras curry powder, more if desired

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, shallot, garlic, curry powder and salt. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Taste for seasoning. May be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature and whisk again before using. Makes: 1 cup

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 92 calories (percent of calories from fat, 97), trace protein, trace carbohydrates, trace fiber, 10 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 90 milligrams sodium.

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