Corn and More: Succotash Without Suffering

Succotash ingredThe word “succotash” comes from the Narragansett Native American term for boiled corn kernels, “msickquatash.” Yet succotash recipes have evolved to include a lot more ingredients than corn. According to the Plimoth Colony Cook Book from Plymouth, Massachusetts, succotash is any combination of corn and beans. A more elaborate “Plymouth Succotash” became a staple at Forefathers’ Day, the holiday that commemorates the landing of the Pilgrims on December 21, 1620. This recipe calls for pea beans, corned beef, fowl, turnips, and potatoes along with corn.

Succotash 2As the English settlers in America learned how to use corn, which did not grow in Europe at the time, recipes for succotash evolved considerably. Some call for corn, lima beans, and milk. To this mix, others add tomatoes, squash, or okra. I grew up in Virginia with double succotash (corn and lima beans) and triple succotash (corn, lima beans, and tomatoes). My sister and I detested both as much as Sylvester the cat from the Looney Tunes cartoon, who growled “sufferin’ succotash!” when he was upset.

I found an Old California variation of succotash named Colache in American Harvest: Regional Recipes for the Vegetarian Kitchen by Nava Atlas (1987). The chile peppers – something the Pilgrims never ate – underscore the recipe’s migration into a new region. I wanted to try this version because it doesn’t contain the milky sauce that my sister and I dreaded in our “sufferin’ succotash” days. This colorful mix (quintuple succotash!) lives up to its promise to celebrate the summer harvest. It’s designed to be served hot, but I ended up serving it at room temperature, which worked better on a warm night. My mother would be proud of me for voluntarily eating a bowlful.

Succotash finished

Colache (Southwestern Summer Succotash)
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups string beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups fresh corn kernels (3-4 large ears)
1 heaping cup chopped ripe tomatoes
1/3 cup water
2 small yellow summer squashes, diced
1 fresh or canned, mild or hot green chile pepper, minced
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Steam the string beans over boiling water until they are tender-crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Refresh under cold water until they stop steaming and set aside. [As an alternative, I put the beans in a microwave safe bowl along with about 1/4 cup water, covered the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, then microwaved for 5 minutes on high power. I uncovered the bowl, drained the water, and let the beans sit].
  2. Heat the olive oil in a deep, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the onion and garlic and saute over low heat until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the corn [I scraped the ears of corn right into the pot], tomatoes, water, squash, chile pepper and vinegar. Cover and simmer over very low heat for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the corn and squash are just done.
  4. Add the string beans and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes to heat through. Season with salt and pepper. [I added a bit of fresh thyme, too.]
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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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