When I was in the fourth grade, I found a recipe for succotash in the recipe section of the local newspaper. It caught my fancy, and my mother agreed to help me make it. Succotash is corn and lima bean stew but I am pretty sure that the newspaper recipe included ground meat of some kind. I was always scheming to get more meat into my diet as a child (although I don’t think that I would want ground meat in my succotash now). Succotash often has other ingredients thrown in, and I am of the opinion that it is a good idea to throw in whatever vegetables had a good season in your neck of the woods. It is typically served as a Thanksgiving dish, but I prefer to make it in September, when corn and lima beans can still be had fresh. I know that they both freeze pretty well, but they are still better fresh. Also, I really like ripe tomatoes in my succotash and mid September is the big tomato moment!
My husband and I have just returned from visiting his family in Eastern Tennessee for a couple of weeks. Chris’ mother knows that I like to cook, so she thoughtfully took me to the small but lovely Saturday’s farmers market in Maryville. Looking across the tables of lovely local tomatoes, corn, peppers, onions and okra I thought, “All we need is lima beans and we can make succotash!”
Chris’ mother also took me to her regular market, a small grocery called Horn of Plenty that carries wonderful local fruit, vegetables, dairy, jams and bacon. They had shelled lima beans! They were labeled butter beans, but that is a cuter name for the same thing. I should pause here to say that although I like fresh lima beans better than frozen, dried or canned lima beans, I am not actually a big fan of shucking them. It is arduous work. The idea that a person could just go the local market and pick up a bag of fresh, shucked lima beans….well the luxury of it boggles the mind and demands that you buy said lima beans and make succotash!
In fact, I made three batches of succotash in less than two weeks. I froze one batch, so that we could take it with us camping. I’d do that again! The frozen succotash was a good ice pack for the other food that we wanted to keep cold. I packed it at 6AM and by 6PM it was totally thawed and ready to be warmed in a pot over our camp stove. Oh! Did I mention that local watermelons were in season? We also packed a frozen batch of this Chilled Watermelon, Tomato and Almond Soup which I keep talking about from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga. That was also packed at 6AM and was perfectly thawed and ready to be slurped down cold after a hike in the Tennessee heat at 3PM. Just in case you are feeling overwhelmed by the culinary glamour of our camping trip, know that the next night we ate those ready-made Indian meals that you boil inside their packet to avoid making dishes, so it all evened out in the end.
The other batches, we ate at Chris’ parent’s house with skillet cornbread. Chris’ mother knows a folk song or old tune for any occasion. While we cooked we hummed this one…. Wait, I don’t know how to imbed video so, you’ll have to follow the links. Here are our friends The Wiyos. And here are some friends of friends The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
So, here is the succotash that I made, but this is obviously a recipe that thrives on improvisation and flexibility. Make it with the beans that are good where you live. Make it with whatever vegetables you have lots of. I really, really like bacon grease in my succotash, but it is not mandatory. If I am not mistaken, it is not uncommon to add milk or cream to succotash (especially if you do not have tomatoes). If you live in an alternate luxurious universe (Like Eastern Tennessee) where one can buy fresh, shucked lima beans do so! But, I need to offer you one caution about them. Cook them as soon as you get them home because they do not keep shucked and raw, not even for a couple of days. If you live in NYC and have some time on your hands fresh lima’s in their pods are available as we speak at the Union Square Greenmarket. In fact all of these ingredients are there!
- 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
- A cup and a half fresh shelled lima beans
- 2 ears of fresh corn
- I small sweet pepper (I used an unusually large banana pepper)
- A couple of handfuls of okra (about 1 and 1/2 cups whole)
- 1 small onion
- 2 or 3 Tablespoons bacon grease or fry up some bacon and use it for garnish
- chili powder to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a large pot of salted water until boiling. Using a sharp knife, score the tomatoes with an X at the stem and then end. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water. As soon as the skin begins to split, scoop the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Don’t dump the water out!
- Add the shelled lima beans to the hot water and bring it to a boil again over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium high and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the limas are tender. Prep and saute the other vegetables while the beans cook.
- Cut the corn kernels off of the cobs and put them in a bowl. Scrape the cobs with a knife into the bowl to get all of the sweet bits. Throw the cobs into the bean pot.
- Seed and dice the peppers and add them to the corn.
- Dice the onions and saute them over medium heat, with a bit of salt in the bacon grease until they start to turn a golden color. While the onions cook, prep the tomatoes.
- Remove the peels from the cooled tomatoes. Slice the tomatoes across their belly and squeeze the seeds and juice out into the pan of onions. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan too. Increase the heat to a medium high and let the sauce thicken a bit, while you prep the okra.
- Slice the tops off of the okra and discard them. Slice the okra crosswise about 1/2 inch thick and add them to the onion and tomato mixture. Add the corn and peppers. If the mixture needs seems to dry, add some of the cooking water from the bean pot.
- When the beans are tender, add them to the succotash along with as much of the bean cooking liquor as you need to achieve the desired consistency.
- When everything is tender, taste the stew and season it with salt, pepper and chili powder.
- Garnish it with crumbled bacon of you like and serve it with skillet cornbread.