“I like it pretty much any way you can prepare it: Fried, grilled, pickled, in gumbo, stewed okra and tomatoes, okra chips.” He grows it every year in his backyard vegetable garden, which measures 17 by 26 feet. “It’s one of the few vegetable plants that can stand the heat of Florida’s summers. I plant practically the full garden plot with okra seed,” he says. And every fall, when harvest time comes around, Lochridge throws a party at his Apopka home in honor of the mucilaginous pod.
Okrafest started in 2003 when Lochridge, a former editor for the Orlando Sentinel, wanted to prove a point to a co-worker—that fried okra was not slimy. That first year, six people gathered to celebrate; the guest list has since grown to more than 50. “Our house and backyard fill up with good friends, family, great music and tasty food,” says Lochridge. A local band, The Simple Cavemen, are regular performers, with the highlight being a singalong of “The Okra Song.’’ There’s even a festival T-shirt designed by Spencer Pettit, one of the original Okrafesters.
Everyone brings a dish, but Lochridge and his wife, Lisa, supply most of the okra-themed food. “There was only one year when we needed to buy okra to have enough, because we held the party early before there was enough to harvest,” he says. “That year was known as Faux-kra Fest.”
— Hancel Deaton