I recently heard from two friends who had very different reactions to the jars of pickled okra I had given them. One exclaimed how wonderfully spicy the pickles were. The other wondered why hers were so mild.
I puzzled over this for a while, then realized that one of these friends had received a jar that had been processed at least two months earlier, while the second friend had pickles that were practically brand new.
Moral of the story: to get the full benefit of those zesty spices, you really need to let the pickles rest for a few weeks--or months.
The recipe I use is from "The Art of Accompaniment" by Jeffree Sapp Brooks. It couldn't be much simpler: You just pack the okra, spices, garlic and chili peppers in a clean jar, pour it a hot brine of vinegar, water and salt, then cap the jars and process them in a pot of boiling water.
This recipe is enough to make four pints, but I don't always have two pounds of okra laying around. For me, it's easier to simply harvest what the garden offers as the okra grow to the right size, then make a quart of pickles when I've gathered enough. But here's the original recipe.
2 pounds fresh okra
2 2/3 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 talespoons sal
4 garlic cloves, crushed and pealed
4 dried chili pods (I use ripe red jalapenos from the garden, seeded)
4 small bay leaves
2 tablespoon pickling spices
Divide the okra and other ingredients into 4 clean pint jars, or 2 quart jars. (It helps to pack some of the okra first stem-end-down, then continue packing stem-end up.) ring the vinegar, water and salt to a boil. Ladle brine into jars. Screw on caps and process in a boiling water bath-- 10 minutes for pint jars, 15 minutes for quart jars.
Store in a cool, dark place at least one month before opening.