My father would make succotash and eat it alone. Along with American chop suey and the occasional boiled dinner, it was one of the few foods he claimed in the kitchen. He returned to these dishes whenever he craved a taste he had grown up with, something familiar, nostalgic, and, to him, evocative of comfort. Her family, of sturdy old Maine stock, did not bring sturdy food to my mother’s wedding. These were people who put butter on their saltines.
My mother’s family was Greek, and like many Greek-American immigrants, they went into the restaurant business. It sounds like something out of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but buttered saltines and a can of Habitant pea soup usually don’t stand up to a spread of souvlaki and spanakopita, baklava and kourabiedes. My mother did her best to cook for a hybrid palate, relying on recipes from “The Joy of Cooking” and women’s checkout magazines, supplemented by America’s abundance of packaged and processed foods that l You could see on TV, like Hamburger Helper and Rice-A-Roni.
A few times a year, after receiving plates of moussaka and Prince spaghetti, perhaps overwhelmed by a desire as primal for his identity as a salmon returning to its ancestral stream, my father would outgrow the soup and Rice-A- Roni in the pantry and grab some cans of corn and lima beans to begin the succotash rite. There are well-documented cases of people possessed by the need to eat dirt. As a kid, I felt this way about my father’s succotash binges. I hated. I had learned to tolerate Greek lentil soup, and baked beans with salted pork It was a traditional Saturday dinner, but a lima bean dish was too focused on legumes to tempt a child who had tasted Hamburger Helper. When my father made succotash, he ate it alone.
He didn’t follow any recipes and certainly didn’t need one. No handwriting sheets, precious and splashed in the kitchen, were passed on by Grammy Raymond (née Foy). His version of succotash was simple and as simple as canned corn. This consisted of canned corn, simmered with canned Limas until hot, then drained, buttered, seasoned and eaten. I think you could add an onion, and a chopped pepper wouldn’t hurt, but the substance of his dish was plain as a dirt road.
My father ate succotash like he was on a pilgrimage. The rest of the family wouldn’t follow him very far down this path, but we respected his solitary eating habits. For an irreligious man, succotash was a sort of Lenten meal for him; it gave him a sense of community again, a warm reminder of a shared table.
Succotash has indigenous heritage. It is based on an Algonquian word, msiquatash, entering the English usage of the Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island. The Abenakis of eastern Maine probably called it something like mesikoota. For a household whose weekly menu planning regularly included unpronounceable Greek dish names, succotash stood out strangely, a funny-sounding food that didn’t have an English name but belonged to the language in a way that dolmathes and the keftethathes could never carry.
Like the native place names that come out of the language of Mainers, succotash has been assimilated irregularly into the regional American idiom, or perhaps it is more as if the language has adapted to it, similarly way that the salt-tolerant rosa rugosa has become naturalized along Maine’s rocky coast. Much like the use of the term “chop suey” in my father’s other favorite comfort food, the name succotash undoubtedly carries with it a history of cultural assimilation and appropriation, and everything Americans eat today probably bears only a partial resemblance to the dish the settlers first discovered. on these shores.
I don’t know where my father found the recipe. Older instructions for succotash, dating from the 19th century, called for boiling the corn cobs with the beans, a practice that would have used the starchy “corn milk” that is also the secret ingredient in an excellent succotash. but. Chances are that, with its New England colonial pedigree, succotash was boosted by the wave of nostalgia for early America that swept the East Coast at the turn of the 20th century, but succotash is truly stuck in America’s shores as a hearty, thrifty meal that like American. chop suey and corn chowder helped New Englanders get through hard times, a sort of Depression-era waste of necessity.
Regardless of how it has survived, the dish has retained a decidedly regional appeal. James Beard doesn’t mention it in his thousand-page classic “American Cookery.” A renewed interest in healthy eating plus thrift (substitute olive oil for butter and it wouldn’t be out of place in the trendy Mediterranean diet), plus the added cachet of provenance native (the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indians includes it in their “Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook”), have elevated the humble succotash to the status of a restaurant-worthy dish. Outside of New England, a southern version also developed.
I’m not sure which region first incorporated bacon, but if my dad’s recipe had included tasty chunks of salty smoked meat, I might have appreciated it more as a kid.
The recipe is from Sandra A. Gutierrez, “Beans and Field Peas,” University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Fresh shelled lima beans are rarely seen in New England. My father used canned vegetables. I used frozen. I add bacon here and some spices – crushed red pepper or smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon each or to taste will increase the heat. And a vegetarian version using olive oil in place of butter and bacon grease is a completely healthy dish.
5 to 8 servings, depending on use as a main dish or side dish
1 package (16 ounces) frozen small lima beans (or butter beans, which are slightly larger)
4 slices of thick smoked bacon, cut into thin pieces
1 tablespoon of butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (red adds color)
1 package (16 ounces) frozen corn kernels (or 4 ears, using fresh)
½ teaspoon ground sage (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage)
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Cook lima beans according to package directions and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, fry bacon, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until barely crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain most of the bacon grease, leaving about a tablespoon.
Add the butter to the pan. Add the onion and pepper. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the cooked corn and lima beans, along with the seasonings. Cook for about 5 minutes more until everything is heated through.
THE COOKER : Mark Raymond, Portland and Owls Head
“I grew up in Maine, attended Bates and then New York University for a doctorate in English, and currently teach in the Honors College at UMaine. In the past, when I was responsible for teaching first-year writing courses, I designed a program that used food writing as a way to engage a diverse group of students, allowing the subject matter to move them from personal essays to more advanced research projects. While helping these students find their voice, I also became interested in writing about food. I’ve only been a home cook, preparing everyday meals and packed lunches for school, but my Greek-American extended family has worked in the restaurant business before. They brought dynamic dishes whose traditions I try to perpetuate. On my father’s side, I have very deep roots in Maine and New England.