okra.jpgLouisiana’s association with the word “gumbo” dates back to the arrival of African slaves early in the 18th century. Torn from their homes in west Africa, few of their possessions survived the Middle Passage, but one important agricultural crop did cross the ocean to become the seed of Louisiana’s most famous dish. “Kingombo” from the Bantu languages, “ọ́kụ̀rụ̀” in Igbo, a Nigerian dialect, okra was established in the fields of the south by the mid-18th century. African cooks in Creole kitchens created a cuisine rich with their familiar vegetable — smothered okra with fresh corn and tomatoes, crisp cornmeal-coated fried okra, spicy pickled okra and of course the queen of dishes, seafood gumbo.

This Saturday, October 4, the town of St. Martinville hosts the Okra Festival. Sponsored by the African-American Museum, the festival will offer an okra cook-off, a fried okra eating contest, and music all day long in the heart of St. Martinville, on New Market Street, under the Evangeline Oak. Music begins at 9 a.m. with Lil Nathan & the Zydeco Big Timers, Leon Chavis & the Zydeco Flames, and Sha Me Nu; judging in three categories, Okra, Chicken, and Anything Butt, takes place at 11; and the fried okra eating contest commences at 2:30 p.m. For more information, call Danielle Fontenette at 394-2230.

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