No meal in American history is more famous than the “first Thanksgiving” at Plymouth, Massachusetts, but despite its notoriety, most of the actual menu remains a mystery. The Pilgrims and Wampanoags certainly didn’t tuck into buttery mashed potatoes or mile-high apple pie in 1621, but most historians agree that succotash is a likely candidate. A simple, hearty concoction of corn and beans (fresh in summer or dried in winter), plus a little meat or fish, succotash was a nourishing Native American staple, a thick stew, that could (and did) feed a crowd. It’s also a lot of fun to say (it’s from the Wampanoag msíckquatash, meaning “boiled corn kernels”).
Learning from the Wampanoags, the English settlers soon prized the dish for its year-round accessibility, affordability, and sustenance when other food was scarce. During the Depression, World War II, and other times of economic crisis, hungry Americans of the future would do the same.
Today, nearly all succotash recipes maintain the marriage of corn and beans, but the original tough field corn and native shell beans (typically cranberry beans in New England) have largely been replaced by sweet corn and lima beans. In its many adaptations, corned beef, salt pork, potatoes, tomatoes, okra, and peppers have all made their way into the succotash pot, along with butter, fresh herbs, and sometimes even a splash of cream. A batch of succotash is a lot like a batch of baked beans, another pot-bound New England favorite. It’s likely you’ll never be served the same bowl twice, and no recipe is wrong—at least according to the chef.
But don’t wait for Thanksgiving! Take advantage of the region’s sweet summer bounty of fresh corn and native cranberry beans to enjoy an easy and (mostly) authentic version of this Early American classic. Here we’ve made it a meal topped with seared scallops, but it’s also excellent on its own or as a side.