Summer is a great time to meet up with friends for a classic American barbecue. That old lawn chair that squeaks whenever someone sits in it. Someone’s applying sunscreen in the background. Hotdogs and ketchup. Potato salad. Maybe a paper plate of barbecue sauce and bones picked clean, alongside a can of beer collecting drops of condensation.
Succotash — a medley of corn and beans, among other things — isn’t something we’d normally include in that familiar scene. And yet this delicious (and historic!) dish just might have a well-deserved place in our collective imagination of classic American foods.
· · ·
If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of succotash is either that awful mix of frozen veggies served at the school cafeteria, or Sylvester the Cat’s trademark phrase: “sufferin succotash!” (said with a lisp, of course).
But succotash deserves so much more. It’s the OG American meal. Before any of us were showing up at parks to watch fireworks; before burgers were our national food; and before white and red checkered tablecloths ever donned picnic tables, the indigenous populations in North America were making succotash.
· · ·
The most common crops of North American tribes were maize and beans. Among the many ways to prepare these two simple ingredients, one was a mélange of corn, beans, and anything that was foraged, hunted, or in-season. The ingredients were often boiled together in a thick broth, and kept cooking throughout the day for hungry family and visitors.
When Western European immigrants washed ashore in the middle 17th century, the natives not only showed them how to grow maize and beans, but they fed them succotash. In fact, historians are all-but-certain that succotash was on the menu for the first Thanksgiving dinner.
The Narragansett called their stew-like dish msickquatash or m’sick-quotash, which means “broken (or boiled) kernels.” The word — much like the dish itself — got Anglicized (or Englished) into “succotash” as it spread among the colonists, who tweaked the recipe as it went.
Let succotash stew for a few hundred years, and what do you get? Besides being the catchphrase for a cartoon character, it’s been heavily regionalized, nearly erasing its roots as a native dish. The Yankees say it’s theirs; Southerners say succotash is classic Southern fare. I’m pretty sure Midwesterners lay claim to it, too. None of this is new: when the colonies first formed, and the bowl of succotash was still warm in their hands, the Pilgrims began to call it a New World pottage and proclaim it an English invention.
Although everyone seems to do it a little differently, the one constant in every succotash is corn and beans of some kind —usually lima beans. Some include fresh herbs, squash, bell peppers, or onions. One succotash might be a soup, another might be a rustic side dish that looks like a salsa.
The succotash crafted this week by Executive Chef Dana is a variation of a long-time favorite of hers. She says that even though it’s early summer, the hearty veggies used in the satisfying side dish reference the classic early harvest. It’s perfect for a summer night.
Ours starts with bacon, which gets diced and cooked crisped, then set aside. Sweet corn, chopped green beans, celery, and halved grape tomatoes join the pan and sauté until hot. Minced jalapeño gets thrown in, along with the bacon. Cumin-grilled chicken is sliced and served over top, with a side of jalapeño-studded cornbread.
You’ll never look at succotash the same again.
· · ·
Green Chef delivers all you need to make wholesome meals at home: fresh, organic, pre-measured ingredients and delicious, easy-to-master recipes. Sign up today!