A simple vegetable stew mixing fresh corn, lima beans and tomato or other vegetables, succotash is the one dish of my American childhood which has been most difficult to reproduce on this side of the pond.
However, thanks to the clever British cook Sophie Grigson, my problem is solved. In place of the traditional lima beans (similar to butter beans, but smaller, sweeter and impossible to source in England), Sophie suggests flagolet beans. I tried them and they do the trick – in size, in colour and in soft, smooth texture. Fantastic!
Corn was the main crop in the fields around my parents’ old house on the York River in rural Tidewater Virginia. Fringed with long, pointed leaves and standing in perfect rows with soft, powdery earth at their feet, the stalks made an enchanted shelter for games of hide and seek on hot summer days – at least until the ears were ripe and harvested.
Once the centre of a complex, sprawling empire ruled by the Indian chief Powhatan long before the first permanent English settlement in America was founded in 1607, the area in which our house stood was originally called Werewococo – and it was in a field just a little further along this same river where the young Pocahantas is believed to have begged her father Powhatan to spare the handsome Englishman Captain John Smith from his sentence of death.
Succotash, a simple pairing of corn and shell beans, was the inexpensive, nutritious, and easily available gift of the Native Indians to the early American settlers. The word itself comes from the Narragansett Indians of Rhode Island – sohquttahhash – or broken kernals. The dish has become a classic of American cooking, as popular in New England – where a touch of sugar and thick cream or salt pork/bacon are often added – as it is in the South, where fresh chopped red peppers, onions, zucchini/courgettes or tomatoes are preferred.
Tomatoes were my mother’s preference – and so they are mine.
Note: Sometimes the succotash is put in an oven proof dish and topped with pastry to make an economical vegetable pie. Very popular during the Great Depression and WW!!.
ALL YOU NEED: for 4
2 cups fresh, frozen or tinned sweet corn
2 cups cooked flagolet beans, fresh, frozen or tinned
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
In a saucepan, heat oil or butter and stir in corn, flagolet beans and water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Stir in butter (if using).
This is a good side dish for roast chicken or pork chops, or a dish on its own as a succotash pie (see above).