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May 10, 2008

Death row last meals and okra



Oh, good. It's raining again. Isn't that a pleasant surprise.

I've been thinking a lot about death the last couple of days, what with the great weather and all, so Owl Meat's latest contribution to the blog, the URL to a Web site that lists actual death row last meals fit right in.

At least, I suppose it's actual death row last meals. You couldn't make this stuff up:

four fried pork chops, collard greens with boiled okra and "boiling meat", fried corn, fried fatback, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, lemonade, one pint of strawberry ice cream and three glazed donuts (John Washington Hightower, Georgia, June 26, 2007)

The only bright spot...

...was how often okra shows up. This was my favorite. I think this might be my last meal:

fried okra, four buns with lots of butter, lots of salt and two slices of banana bread (Robert Charles Comer, Arizona, May 23, 2007)

I'm a big fan of okra. It has moderate food value: a lot of vitamin C, a little bit of calcium, iron and vitamin A. A good amount of fiber. Very few calories (31 per serving).

I want all of you to give it a second chance.

My favorite way to introduce it to people is the way you feed unfamiliar food to children: You disguise it. Wait until summer and then lightly saute some scallions and thin strips of green pepper. When soft add a peeled, seeded and chopped tomato; a lot of fresh, local corn cut off the cob; and okra sliced on the diagonal. Cover and let steam until just done. Add a nice pat of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper before serving.

(Photo courtesy of Seasoned Pioneers)


Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:59 AM | | Comments (31)


Somehow I don't think that nutritional value and low caloric content are much of a factor in choosing a last meal. Just ask Elvis.

I'm trying to persuade YOU to eat it before your last meal. EL

Okay my husand loves okra and I hate it but I am willing to try it again. I have bookmarked this recipe for this summer when the corn is especially wonderful. I'll let you know what I think about it. But corn is like pork fat, it makes everything taste good.

That's my girl. EL

Okra was high on my list of the Dining @ Large Gack Scale, and even rated a 10.
However, in my continuing efforts to be open-minded, I will dutifully try your recipe. This is monumental, cos I really, really, hate okra!

I love that. Please report back. EL

I think you need to have southern roots to truly love okra.

Regardless of whether you support the death penalty or not, this is really shocking. It's one thing to ask people what their last meal might be if they were headed to the great beyond, but to use this website to do it is, forgive me, distasteful. The names listed after the meals are people who were actually put to death. I guess if this is really your thing, you could purchase some of the thong underwear on the site and sit down to eat the death meal at the same time as the execution, maybe make a wierd ceremony out of it. Just stop and think about what we're talking about here.

Okra haters could always try it breaded and deep-fried. Heck, even shoe leather almost tastes good breaded and fried.

That is a grim site. But I think looking at the food choices of real people is interesting. I don't think it has anything to do with your opinion on the death penallty. The whole process is grim, but it is real. Personally I think it makes execution seem very real and not just a concept. What I noticed just by looking at the meals was that I could imagine a rough socio-economic profile of that person. Poor and Southern really jump out at you. There is no celebration of execution here, just an examination of what goes on in our world with real people. How can that be bad? Does it not enhance our humanity to humanize these people that we choose to execute? I can't believe that it's a good idea to dehumanize anyone; that's what totalitarian regimes do to maginalize or exterminate sectors of their society. Sure, nobody wants to see how the sausage is made, but in an open society, it is our obligation to do so. The power of the goverment in a democracy comes from the people. When the goverment executes someone, we are all responsible for that act. Frightening.

Food, sex and death - they are all so intertwined. There is death in every bite of food - even plants have to be killed before we eat them. They give us continued life. Without death there would be no need for sex. Food doesn't just stave off death, it brings us great pleasure. Chew on that.

Meanwhile in the real world millions of people are running down hookers for points in Grand Theft Auto.

Ease up there Bri-guy. First you don't want to inhibit the free exchange of ideas and information or this blog goes kablooey and all we do is argue about crab cakes.

Also, our society is saturared with Christian mythology and imagery, whether you are a Christian, atheist or whatever (I minister at the Church of the Eternal Whatever). The New Testament is chock full of food, death and reanimation in various combinations. Making wine from scratch. Making Filet o' Fish sandwiches in bulk (arguably the first fast food event) And a ritual meal before the big daddy of all executions. A curiosity about last suppers may be morbid, but it is in our social DNA.

It is creepy to bring it so close to home, with meals from real people in our time and society, but I'll you wouldn't be creeped out to learn what was served to Jesus or Cleopatra. Here's a link that's less insensitive:

A few things that jumped out at me - that a number of people would have SALAD as part of their last meal. That's bewildering. And that someone named Dobie Gillis Williams (12 candy bars and ice cream)

I think this is very thought worthy:
Philip Workman: He declined a special meal for himself, but he asked for a large vegetarian pizza to be given to a homeless person in Nashville, Tennessee. This request was denied.

I would like to say in Brian's defense that when I was writing the OP I felt slightly uncomfortable. I started thinking about whether you could actually eat what you'd ordered if you knew you were about to die. It was interesting but kind of upsetting if you let yourself think about it. Not that it stopped me. EL

How very well articulated my little piglet. But why am I not surprised that you ended with hookers and video games. You can take the pig out of the poke, but ...

Okra, usually called "ladyfinger" in English and "bindi" in Hindi, is a tasty vegetarian dish in India. My Indian cookbooks are not at hand, but I would guess a good one, like Julie Sahni's, would have a recipe worth trying.

Hmmm, Deep Thoughts Saturday? Death by Chocolate. Food and death go hand in hand. That cake was to die for. Devil's food cake. Angel hair pasta, sort of. I'm out.

I was more whimsical, as is if you were going on a one way tri[p to Pluto what would your last meal be. The death row thing was an aside, not the meat of the post. Last words and last meals are the stuff of history, like it or not. Yes it does bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings, but I can handle it.

Another interesting take on theology from Rev. Ed. "Social DNA"? I'd like to stop by your church of eternal indifference. Do serve any snacks?

Now for Mr. Pork, what the hell did you have for breakfast? Eth-os? Karl Popper-Os? Stick to bacon. Oh the humanity! I thought you were going to bust out epistemology.

I've seen that site. It isn't poor and Southern, it is poor and Black folks who get killed by the state.

I do love okra, though, despite being an nth generation Yankee. My partner hated it, until some bindi snuck on to her thali. She was insistent that something that tasted that good couldn't be okra.

i'm surprised the Food Police are allowing fried pork chops and glazed donuts to be served in a state facility. I mean it is almost as if the State is sponsoring this unhealthy lifestyle. Dont' people understand that foods like these kill.

Tru dat Lissa about race. But in all fairness, I can't judge someone's race by their diet accurately. Someone once looked at my kitchen and asked if I was Chinese based upon the Asian ingredients on the shelves (I'm not).

More thoughts on okra, from my favorite Indian cookbook, Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking: "If there is one vegetable that is grossly misunderstood and underrated it is okra. It cam be truly delicious if properly cooked. In my intermediate-level cooking classes, I always include an okra preparation. This inevitably elicits dismay and not a little disgust from the [American] students. They picture the overcooked, bland stewed okra in a slimy sauce that they have tasted so often. Sliminess results when cut okra comes in contact with water. In Indian cooking, particularly North Indian cooking, okra is never cooked with water. The North Indian technique, which is just about perfect, calls for stir-frying okra in oil. After this explanation and a little persuasion, my students reluctantly give in, probably just to satisfy their curiosity. But when the dish is finally made and sampled, they are delightfully surprised and sorry to have missed out on such a delicacy all these years."
Sahni's book contains a half dozen ways of preparing okra, stir-fried, crisp fried, stuffed with spices, in a salad with yoghurt, etc. My copy is nearly 30 years old but there are doubtless copies still around. And it isn't just for okra lovers.

Elvis' last meal wasn't planned as such.

You got a point, voodoopork. I'm pulling data from other sources (and trying not to go on a rant).

FH Jim, I've got to look for that cook book. Besides chapati (which are so easy, I could have made them in 2nd grade), I'm woefully ignorant about cooking Indian food.

My favorite cocktail snack - or at least one of my top ten- has got to be pickled okra. Spicy, vinegary, and crunchy. Great with a cold beer, well chilled martini, or a crisp white wine such as a dry reisling. Also complements sharp, not too stinky cheeses.

Maybe you'd better come cook for me on Mother's Day. EL

I just spent way too much time reading that website and checking out last meal requests! It does make you wonder what would be your request for a last meal...

Yes smcm02, that was my point -- what would YOUR/OUR last meal be? Maybe that could be a separate post. Be careful with the tiny Oreos, it could accidentally be your last meal, especially if you mix them with the dreaded Fried Weasel and Four Cheese Croissant Pocket and Batter Blaster pancakes, that's the perfect storm of gastrointestinal distress -- This is Colon 1 to Iliocecal 7, we've gotten hepatic overload in sector 7, there's a bile meltdown, we're going to DefCon 1, prepare for global thermonuclear war!

Here you go. EL

Okra is delicious. Fried its ok. But I love it sauteed in tomatoes, also its good pickled. I love it in indian food, and of course as ingredient in gumbo. The only vegetable I really don't like is chard, because to me.. its very watery and tasteless.

Okra's not bad, haven't had it in a good while though.

that last meal site is kinda creepy, but still interesting reading.

Francesca, Swiss chard needs a frost to come into its own. I grew my own, when I had a yard that frosted, and it was nothing like the stuff from the grocery store.

Easy, too. I'd just toss the seeds into soil I'd broken up a bit and walk away until frost. Even grew it out front, using the multi-coloured stuff, so it could be ornamental, too.

I think you need to have southern roots to truly love okra.

That may be because there are more cooks in the south that can prepare okra without it coming out slimy.

Lissa: If you can't find it elsewhere, The Book Escape, 805 Light Street (just south of Key Highway) 410 576 8885, has been good at finding long out of print books for me. If not, I'd be happy to lend you mine.

I love okra - in gumbo, deep fried, stir fried, Indian-style - and I'm not southern. I just have good taste. :)

Thanks, FH Jim. I can usually track books down, but I'm always glad to hear of a good book store.

I always thought that I hated okra until I had it breaded and deep fried as Hal mentioned. I love it that way and love it in Indian food. Hubby, not so much. I am filing away the summer recipe to try and so I can sneak it past hubby.

Rosebud, when we finally meet, please bring that recipe to your virtual twin!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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