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Celebrate the pods of the South in Irmo

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By Wayne Lazarus on September 1st, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

OkraIf you’ve ever wondered how people can eat the slimy green vegetable we call okra — you might want to attend an Okra Festival. In Irmo, South Carolina, the festival is held in late September and known as the Irmo Okra Strut.

The Strut began in 1973 when the Lake Murray-Irmo Women’s Club got the idea for a fundraiser after hearing a radio announcer make a joke about the ancient Irmese inhabitants of the town, who were likely short farmers living on okra.

The festival has grown over the years, celebrating its 37th year in 2010. Irmo is a bedroom community of Columbia, and the festival often brings more than 50,000 visitors. It includes a concert and street dance on Friday night, then the main celebration on Saturday with children’s entertainment (at Okryland,) arts and crafts (along Okrafitti Street,) portraits with Okra Man and okra eating contests. At 9 a.m. the actual strut, a parade, kicks off with 100 units and over 2,800 people in it.

Souvenirs are available at, what else, pod shops. Other varieties of festival foods are plentiful, and of course the Lake Murray-Irmo Womens Club members have their fried okra for sale.

“We had okra ice cream one year,” says executive director Jim Twitty. It was green and good, he adds, and fortunately, didn’t taste much like okra.

P1030003There are a few other okra festivals around the South, although none as long-lasting. Alabama has its okra festival in Burkville in August (see blog post about Alabama food festivals here.)

The African-American Museum in St. Martinsville, Louisiana (about 15 minutes south of Lafayette) has hosted an okra festival the first Saturday in October every years since 2000, celebrating this vegetable brought to America by slaves from West Africa. It includes an okra cook-off that starts at 6 a.m. Museum Curator/Director Danielle Fontenette says the dishes, which must include okra as an ingredient, are always imaginative and range from fried okra to okra pies and okra boudin. The festival is held under the Evangeline Oak on New Market Street in front of the museum.

For the record, fried okra is not slimy in the least!

Photo of Okra Man courtesy the Irmo Okra Strut Commission. Used with permission.

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