Pressure canning okra is the only way to safely prepare it for long-term storage. Low-acid foods such as okra require prolonged high heat to kill organisms that could contaminate them, such as botulism. Boiling-water canners and alternative canning methods, such as heating jars in an oven, can’t achieve the consistent, high temperatures necessary to sterilize low-acid foods. Pressure canning also sterilizes the canning jars while you process the okra, so you can skip sterilizing the jars before you fill them. But you must clean and rinse the jars with hot water before you use them.
It is safe to can okra with tomatoes, but you must blanch the tomatoes to remove the skins before you parboil and can them. Submerge fresh tomatoes in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds and transfer them to a bowl of ice water to loosen the skins. Remove the skins, then core and quarter the tomatoes.
Add Flavorings First
Place flavoring and acidifying ingredients in the jars before you add okra or tomatoes to ensure you leave the proper amount of head space. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a pint-sized jar or 1 teaspoon to a quart-sized jar for flavor. You can include up to five peeled pearl onions or two onion slices per jar. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon of powdered citric acid to each pint-sized jar to ensure proper tomato acidity if you’re canning okra with tomatoes. Double those volumes for a quart-sized jar. You do not need to acidify jars if you can okra without tomatoes.
Prepare the Okra, Fill the Jars
Discard broken, rust-spotted or insect-damaged pods. Rinse okra and remove the tops with a knife. Leave the pods whole or cut them into 1-inch pieces. Parboil whole okra pods for 5 minutes; parboil cut okra pieces for 2 minutes. Parboil quartered tomatoes for 5 minutes, adding whole okra pods for the entire time or cut okra pieces for the final 2 minutes. Do not cool or drain the okra. Ladle the okra, tomatoes and cooking liquid into the jars, leaving 1-inch head space. Cover each jar with a canning lid and screw band.
Process According to Altitude
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set your pressure canner according to the altitude where you live. The required pounds per square inch of pressure -- the “PSIG” -- as measured by a gauge required to can okra varies from 10 to 15 pounds, depending on your altitude and the type of gauge on your canner. Begin timing the process once the gauge displays the required PSIG. Process pint-sized jars of okra for 25 minutes; process quarts of okra for 40 minutes. You must follow the guidelines for canning okra, which require greater pressure and longer processing times than the guidelines for canning tomatoes, to safely can okra with tomatoes.
Turn off the heat at the end of the processing time. Cool the jars in the canner until it returns to 0 PSIG. Do not expedite the cooling stage with cold water or refrigeration. Cooling the jars naturally is vital to achieving effective seals. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for opening the vent and canner lid. Use a jar lifter to transfer the canned okra to a cooling rack to finish cooling at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.
Test the Seals
Remove the screw bands, which can affix to jars during storage. Push down on the center of a lid with your finger to test the seal. The lid should not pop up if it is sealed properly; it should appear concave. Check the lid on every jar. Remove the lid if you discover a jar that did not seal. Increase the head space to 1 1/2 inches. Return the lid and screw band to the jar. Process the jar again at the same PSIG for the same processing time, then recheck the seal.
Storage and Use
Keep canned okra in a cool, dry place between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit for up to one year. Simmer okra until it is tender to prepare it or add it to a dish, such as a soup or stew, that is still cooking. The only okra dishes that don’t accommodate canned okra well are stuffed okra and fried okra. The pods may be too soft to stuff effectively after canning; and they may be too saturated with canning liquid to develop a crispy fried coating.