I decided a little while ago to focus this week on some traditional Thanksgiving foods. This is probably presumptuous of me. I reside in the opposite half of the world, and have never attended a Thanksgiving dinner. It is however, impossible not to be aware – even at a distance of half the world’s girth – that the Big Cooking Day approacheth.
Presumptuous or not, I am going to do it. It will blend nicely with previously presumptuous posts on Thanksgiving menus and Thanksgiving pies – for which you will find links below.
Many of the historic menus for Thanksgiving dinners that are in my collection (vicarious Thanksgiving-dinnering is what I do), include succotash. This dish is a mystery outside of the USA – understandably because the name derives from an Algonquin (Naragansett) word msíckquatash. Originally this referred to boiled corn, although as we will see, the name now generally applies to a dish containing a mixture of corn and beans. It is said that the earliest settlers were shown how to make this by the Indians, which is why, I assume, it has a place at the traditional Thanksgiving table.
I give you a selection of recipes from across a century and a half, to show how very varied this dish can be in spite of its apparently simple basic ingredients. Or perhaps it will show how the recipe has evolved, improved, or degenerated over time. You be the judge.
First, a recipe from The Republican Compiler (Gettyburg, Pennsylvania), of September 12, 1853.
To Make Succotash.
Take one dozen ears of sweet corn, cut off the kernels, boil the cobs in three pints of water: wash one quart of Lima, or other fresh-shelled beans; and put them in the water with the cobs; scald one pound of salt pork, and add it to the beans and cobs, let the whole boil together three quarters of an hour, then take out the cobs, add the kernels of corn previously cut from them, and let the kernels, the beans, and the pork boil together fifteen minutes; when done, there should remain water only sufficient to keep them from burning, in the pot; serve the pork on a flat, and the succotash in a deep dish.
Succotash is a favorite dish in New England; some prefer it without the salt pork, in that case, butter and salt must be added when the succotash is dished.
Here is a pork-less recipe from the New York Times of August 3, 1879.
Rhode Island Succotash.
Good succotash wants tender young corn. Have a dozen ears, and remove with a sharp knife the kernels. If your corn is tough, do not cut too close to the cob. String a quart of young beans, and cut them in three. Boil the beans with the corn, in half a pint of water. Boil for quite three-quarters of an hour. When cooked, cover closely, add a piece of butter, a teaspoonful of salt, and some pepper. If cream is obtainable, add half a pint at the conclusion.
The well-known cookery book writer Juliet Corson’s Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery and Household Management (New York, 1886) gives three versions of succotash. Here is her version using dried corn and beans.
Succotash of Dried Corn and Beans
Pick over a pint each of dried sweet corn and small white dried beans, and soak them over night in separate bowls of water, putting the water upon the vegetables while it is warm; the next morning wash a pound of salt pork in cold water, put it over the fire in two quarts of cold water, with the beans, and boil it slowly for an hour; then add the corn, and continue the boiling until both vegetables are tender; when the vegetables are tender, take out the pork to serve with the succotash, and put it on a separate dish; drain off nearly all the water from the vegetables; add a tablespoonful each of butter and sugar, milk enough to cover them, and a palatable seasoning of salt and pepper; heat the succotash, and then serve it with the pork.
Canned corn and beans were easier, of course:
From the New York Times of November 24, 1895:
Succotash: Mix equal quantities of canned corn and Lima beans; heat carefully, adding cream, butter, sugar, and salt to taste: although by no means the same dish as made by our Plymouth “foremothers”, it will be found an excellent substitute.
And finally, a ‘recipe’ which is perhaps closer to its roots:
The delicacy of the year was the far-famed succotash, made by scraping the milky kernels from the ears, mingling them with little round beans, which had now come to be domesticated, and with bits of fresh meat, the whole being seasoned with salt, thickened with sunflower-seeds, suthl'-to-k'ia, or piñon-nut meal, and boiled until reduced to an almost homogeneous stew.
Zuni Breadstuff . Frank Hamilton Cushing. 1920
Last year the blog focus was on Thanksgiving pies – five varieties in all. You can find them here, here, here, here, and here.
Quotation for the Day.
An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.