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Summer Succotash

Jonathan Townsend

Posted on October 26 2016

Summer Succotash
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Succotash is a dish that has been around for centuries and is still very popular today. There are so many different ways this dish has been made with so many different ingredients. Native Americans, colonists, and Europeans enjoyed this dish while adding any ingredients that were fresh or available in their area during the season. This is a traditional Summer Succotash recipe.

  • 4 oz. diced Jowl or Regular Bacon (Optional)
  • 2-3 qt. Water
  • 8-10 Ears of Corn
  • 1 ½ cups of Beans (Lima or Kidney beans do well)
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Butter

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Brown your bacon, then add it to about 2-3 quarts of water and bring to a low boil. Trim the corn off your cobs so that you come up with about 4 cups worth of kernels. Be careful not to cut too closely to the cob as this will give a disagreeable taste to your dish.

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Once your water has come to a low boil, add in your corn cobs and beans and boil for about 20 minutes. If you use dried beans, make sure to soak them overnight beforehand.

After 20 minutes, remove the corn cobs and add in the corn kernels and season with some salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil for 15 more minutes. Top with a little bit of butter if desired before serving.

If you enjoy this, I encourage you to experiment with other beans, meats, squash, hominy, and other ingredients to make this recipe your own.

Transcription of Video:

Corn in the 17th and 18th century was extremely important for not only Native peoples but for European colonists also, and some of the dishes favored by the first nations peoples were also favorites of the colonists and we’re going to be making one of those dishes, succotash. Thanks for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking.

Succotash is a very interesting dish. It remains popular, even to this day, in certain regions of the United States. The very first recipe that we found published for succotash is from the mid-1800’s but it’s a much older dish.

To learn about the earlier history of this food, you have to turn to old travel journals of European explorers and settlers. The word succotash is a phonetic mutation of a number of similar Native American words and the earliest that we found this dish by name, at least that we have found, is from Johnathan Carver’s book from 1778, “Travels throughout the Interior Parts of North America”. Here’s a little excerpt:

One dish which answers nearly the same as bread, is in use among a number of Eastern nations where Indian corn grows… it is reckoned extremely palatable by all the Europeans who enter their dominions. This is composed of their unripe corn as before described, and beans in the same state, boiled together with bears flesh, which renders it beyond comparison, delicious, and they call this food, succotash.

The earliest reference we found to succotash did not call it by name. It’s a reference from 1674 by Daniel Gookin and it is titled, “Historical Collections of the Indians in New England”.

Their food is generally boiled maize or Indian corn mixed with kidney beans or sometimes without. Also they frequently boil in this pottage fish and flesh of all sorts, either newly taken or dried, and also they mixed with the said pottage several sorts of roots as Jerusalem artichokes and ground nuts and other roots and pumpkins and squashes and also several sorts of nuts or masts as acorns, chestnuts, walnuts, these husked and dried and powdered, they thicken their pottage therewith.

By now the dictionaries have settled on a spelling for succotash and pretty much all the modern recipes you find for succotash are exactly the same, but as there were a number of ways to spell succotash in the 18th century, there were undoubtedly the same number of ways to fix it.

Today’s recipe is an adaptation. We’re taking the mid-19th century recipe and we’re adding to it some of the same things you’ll find in the earlier references.

I’m using diced jowl bacon for this, about 4 ounces. You can use regular bacon if you’d like. I’m going to brown this in our cast iron pot. As I read earlier, the Native Americans would have used, well basically any meat they had available. It’s likely that European settlers making this dish would use salt pork or bacon. If you’d like to make a vegetarian version of this dish, just leave out the meat. Once that’s browned, we’ll add 2 or 3 quarts of water and we’ll bring that up to a low boil.

While that’s warming up, I have to trim off the very last bit of corn here. I’ve got 8-10 ears. You want to be careful not to cut too closely to the cob. I’ll explain why in just a moment. I’ve got about 2 pounds or say 4 cups of trimmed corn kernels. In addition, we need a cup and a half of beans. Today I’m using baby lima beans.

Let’s add the beans and the corn cobs to this boiling water and I’m going to let this cook for about 20 minutes. If you trim your corn too close to the cob, then they’ll give a disagreeable taste to the dish. You can use canned or dried kidney beans in this instead of the lima beans. If you use the dried beans, make sure to soak them overnight beforehand.

Other vegetables may have been added to this really depending on what was available in the season. Now I’m making a summertime version of succotash here. You could do a fall version or a winter version with dried beans with dried hominy and sometimes adding something like squash or pumpkin. Hopefully in the near future we’ll have an episode on making hominy.

Jason Richards, one of our viewers, recently sent us a little cookbook on native American cooking called “Cherokee Cooklore”. We were fascinated to find a succotash recipe that had dried corn, dried beans and squash. Thank you so much for sending that little cookbook to us Jason.

Once the beans and the cobs have been boiled for, say, 20 minutes or so, remove the cobs and add the corn kernels. Season this with some salt and black pepper, then let it boil for another 15 minutes.

Well, let’s give this a try. This is something, if you want to top this off with a little bit of butter, you’ll probably enjoy that, so I’m going to add a little butter.

Mmm

Wonderful summertime flavors. You get that beautiful sweet corn flavor with the beans settled down very nicely in this. They don’t come out too much in this. You know, I’m not a big fan of lima beans, turns out really good in this dish. The juice is wonderful and of course you can’t go wrong with butter and pepper on there as a seasoning. I’m sure they may have not had those kind of choices but it’s still wonderful, wonderful flavors. A nice medley. And of course the bacon flavor comes out at the very end. Very nice. This dish is great with its roots in 17th century and even earlier Native American cooking.

All the things you’ve seen here today, you know all the cookware that we use, the bowls, the spoons, all these things are available on our website, or in our print catalog. I want to thank you for joining us today as we continue to experiment and try out these very interesting things, as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th century.

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