Some purists will say Succotash can only contain corn, lima beans and cream, milk or butter. What they’re doing is taking their regional version and trying to impose it on everyone else. There are in fact many regional variations throughout the United States, though the basic vegetables are usually lima beans and corn kernels. Versions made in Massachusetts, Kentucky, New England, Virginia, and by the Pennsylvania Dutch, use corn and lima beans, with milk, though sometimes just butter is used instead of milk.
What the purists are perhaps trying to compensate for is that some people have come to use the term “Succotash” very loosely for any mix of vegetables. In trying to establish authenticity, though, they aren’t quite going back far enough to take into account that the Native Americans, who taught European settlers how to make Succotash, would often add meat, and that lima beans themselves aren’t even native to America.
Cherokee versions often add pumpkin and meat, sometimes nuts. Indians would add squash in the fall, when it was available. Other modern variations will add squash or okra, and tomatoes, and potatoes.
The Plymouth version uses navy beans instead of lima beans, and includes a few different kinds of meat, potatoes, turnips and uses hominy corn instead of fresh corn. It is served on Forefathers Day, 21 December, to commemorate when the Pilgrims landed. Some historians believe that the pilgrims would have actually used cranberry beans.
The essential thing about succotash is that it is a mixture of corn and beans, which have proteins that complement each other to make a complete protein. This combination is very common in other cultures. It is served in Mexico (especially during Days of the Dead festival) at the start of November, and is also served in Africa. Corn and beans are also ideal growing mates: corn takes nitrogen out of the soil, beans put it back in.
Frozen mixes can be bought.
Even to the Plain Jane versions, a bit of chopped pimiento or red pepper is often added for colour and interest.
The United States Department of Agriculture has developed a version of succotash for pressure canning. It consists of corn, beans and (optionally) tomato. You would add any cream sauce after opening and draining the jar.
Native Americans made succotash and taught the colonists how to make it. Northern Indian tribes would have used beans other than lima beans, because lima beans are native to South America and were only brought to North America by the Europeans. In the early 1800s, tomatoes started to appear in succotash recipes, especially in some parts of Pennsylvania, likely for colour and flavour. Many people came to dislike succotash because the plain lima bean and corn version was often served in school cafeterias in the 20th century.
Very old succotash recipes add meat.
The word succotash comes from the word “msickquatash” used by the Narragansett Indians on Rhode Island. It appears to have meant either “boiled corn kernels” or “broken into bits”.