But first, why couldn’t you sleep last night? It was probably the Harvest Moon, the full moon of Autumn marking the end of the growing season. And since it shone on the first night of the month, it also alerts you to a coming Blue Moon which will happen on Halloween night. (Unless you adhere to the more traditional definition of a “Blewe Moon” which you can read about here.) So, musically speaking, we’re starting October with Neil Young, and ending it with Rodgers & Hart. But I digress.
The Harvest Moon conjures up images of hungry Pilgrims being saved from starvation by generous Narragansett natives, who introduced the newcomers to their “three sisters” – corn, beans and squash – which the Europeans had never seen before. And of these, corn was most important because it grew abundantly and stored well, so it was the vital ingredient for surviving the winter. No wonder, then, that the central dish of the native diet was what they called “sohquttahhash” which means “broken corn kernels,” or simply corn with anything else thrown in.
It probably saved a lot a English lives, and it went on to become a standard throughout the Northeast. In the 1800’s, an educator named Catherine Beecher (along with with her famous sister Harriet Beecher Stowe) published a home skills textbook that included a recipe for a stew made from corn cob broth, two parts corn to one part beans, thickened with flour. Her brother Henry Ward Beecher later published a twist on the recipe that included salt pork. From there the variations included different meats, roots and vegetables. But as long as it was corn cut with something else, it went by the Anglicized name, “succotash.” It’s a Yankee tradition.
Unless you live in the south. Down there the recipe is reversed and the beans get all the credit. Anything that contains lima beans and a mix of any vegetables qualifies as succotash, especially if you’ve plunked a lump of butter – or even better, lard – right on top. Or you can take it one step further and throw some crust on it for succotash casserole. Dang.
During the Depression, when lots of folks were as hungry as early Puritans, the recipe was commonly reduced to whatever was available, usually a can of corn and maybe something else. Which may explain why the version that went into public schools and became the common standard is just a watery mix of corn and limas. Admit it, you hate succotash.
Which is a travesty. Because succotash is awesome. Nutritionally speaking, the combination of a grain and a vegetable provides a pretty perfect mix of amino acids, whether you add some protein or not. And it’s easy. Start with red onion, red bell pepper and enough red pepper flakes to give it heat, sweated in olive oil. Add any kind of corn. Beans, preferably limas. Fresh basil or parsley if you have it. Smidge of butter. Salt and pepper.
You probably have these or some substitutes in the pantry, so use whatcha got.
In the midst of this madness it’s hot and spicy salvation. And if you’re a traditionalist, you can serve it with a cold pint of Narragansett lager.
Tell the pandemic to go succotash.
– Mike Keeler