Sufferin' succotash

Does anyone else remember that expression "sufferin' succotash?" Sylvester the cat used to say that whenever he was frustrated.

I loved the sound of the words, even though I didn’t know what succotash was. Imagine my delight when I discovered it was a culinary dish.

I love learning the stories behind dishes, and succotash is a great example of just how intertwined our lives and history can become. I also believe it is a wonderful dish to exemplify the autumn season.

Succotash was a dish first prepared by the indigenous people in North America; they were kind enough to share it with the first settlers. The word comes from an Algonquin one meaning “broken corn kernels.”

The dish is primarily sweet corn and lima beans cooked together, sometimes with sweet peppers, tomatoes, or okra.

All these foods were unfamiliar to European settlers, but they soon became a regular part of their diet in the New World. First in New England and then Pennsylvania, and eventually to many parts of the south, where cooking the vegetables in lard became the regional touch.  

I like to adapt the recipe slightly and include the other staple vegetable of many indigenous gardens – squash. Known as the Three Sisters, sweet corn, winter squash and climbing beans are excellent companions in a garden. (My recipe uses a summer squash as they are ready sooner.)

Indigenous peoples across the American continent perfected their gardens over thousands of years, and they learned these three plants benefit each other.

The corn provides stalks on which the beans can grow, the beans provide nitrogen for the soil needed by the corn and squash, and the squash protects the other plants.

It covers the ground, preventing weeds from settling in and becomes like a mulch over the soil that keeps in moisture. The hairs on the vines even help deter pests.

It is not surprising this genius formula swept the continent as a popular garden formula. The combination of inexpensive ingredients and successful harvests continued from the 17th Century when settlers arrived through even the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It is a traditional Thanksgiving dish in many places, and I would say it qualifies nicely in the comfort food category.

You might think that Sylvester’s succotash expression has something to do with the Depression and tough times. Not so.

His signature expletive is what’s called a “minced oath” – an adaptation of a word or phrase that substitutes a different spelling, pronunciation or even a new word, for a blasphemous one.

Sufferin’ succotash came from “Suffering Saviour.” 

In the interest of turning things around and seeing the positive side, I’d like to propose that we count our blessings instead of bemoaning our lot.

I’m really glad Sylvester turned me on to this stuff. Succotash is a great way to celebrate the harvest, and easy dish to enjoy. Give it a try:

SUCCOTASH (serves 4)

  • 3 cobs corn, shucked
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 can lima beans (you could cook dried beans if you have the time)
  • 1 jalapeno
  • Small handful of chives
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin 
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional: 6-8 slices bacon

If you want to use the bacon, cook it first. Save 2 tbsp cooked fat to sauté vegetables. 

OPTION 2: Grill the corn cobs first if you want a bit of added smokiness to the final dish. 

Steam corn for 5 minutes in pot of boiling water. Remove and let cool. Strip kernels from cobs. (If you grilled the corn, do the same.)

Chop zucchinis into bite-size chunks. Drain beans. Chop jalapeno and chives finely. Mince garlic. (If you’re using the bacon, chop it into small slices.)

In a large saucepan, melt butter on medium heat (or put in bacon fat). Cook garlic for a minute or so, just until fragrant, then add zucchini and toss for a minute to coat them in the fat. Add in corn kernels, beans and jalapeno; stir to combine. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper.

Cook until zucchini is tender, and everything is hot. Just before serving, toss in chives (and cooked bacon if using).

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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