Most people’s understanding of succotash begins and ends with Sylvester the Cat lisping “Sufferin’ Succotash!” in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
However, Americans from both the North and the South US know succotash as a popular dish of buttered or creamed sweet corn and beans, prepared as a hot side dish, salad or casserole, especially at Thanksgiving. In some areas it may also contain okra, tomatoes and red peppers.
A Brief History of Succotash
The dish likely originated with Native Americans in the 17th century. They would have introduced settlers to the medley of beans, corn and squash (known as the Three Sisters) they had been cultivating for many years. There would be winter versions of succotash with dried corn and beans and a summer version with fresh sweet corn.
The first published recipe for succotash appeared in a newspaper in New England in 1751. The term succotash would have been coined around that time also, from a combination of manusqussedash (the word for beans in the language of the Narragansett Indian tribe), misickquatash meaning “ear of corn” and asquutasquash meaning “squash”.
Modern traditional versions of succotash are usually made with lima beans, which are not native to North America. They would have been imported from South America starting sometime in the 1800s.
In the Depression era the dish became popular as a cheap and accessible source of fiber and sustaining carbohydrates. It was served in schools across the nation late into the 20th century and is reviled by whole generations of Americans as a result.
How to Prepare Succotash
Some recipes for succotash include copious amounts of butter and/or cream. And lima beans can be a bit labor-intensive to get ready. This recipe substitutes frozen broad beans and olive oil for fat. Adapted from the Good Food magazine and blog, it’s very healthy and easy to prepare.
4 sweet corn cobs
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g frozen baby broad beans
1 red chilli, chopped, with seeds removed
small bunch basil, chopped
small bunch mint, chopped
1-2 tsp sherry vinegar
Use a knife to carefully remove the kernels down the length of the corn cob. Heat oil in a large lidded pan. Cook the kernels and garlic over a medium heat for 5 mins, stirring constantly.
Add the broad beans to the pan, cover and cook, stirring every so often, for another 4-5 mins – or until the beans are cooked through, but not mushy. Turn off the heat and add the chilli, herbs and vinegar. Add seasoning to taste.
This dish is a great side with ribs, roast turkey or chicken, or even seafood.
Succotash is similar to several dishes around the world, notably frijoles con elote in Mexico and Kenyan githeri from Africa. There are also marked regional variations throughout North America that substitute local vegetables in season and add or delete the cream and butter components according to local tradition.
Modern tastebuds may prefer the cold salad version of succotash, a healthy take that emphasizes fresh corn and veggies and dials back the cream and butter. This soupier version makes a hearty main dish or starter akin to chowder or stew.
Elevated reinventions are also popular with some fine dining chefs. Check out this lobster version, the ultimate luxury spin on what’s has always been a humble dish.
Much more than just a cartoon punchline, succotash is a heritage dish that generations of Americans have enjoyed. Claimed as their own by cooks in both the North and the South, it’s a humble yet nourishing dish that has stood the test of time for good reason.