30 June 2007

Reflections on Succotash

I was thinking back to my childhood. My mother would be the first to admit she wasn't the 'cooking type'; nonetheless, we had edible homemade food on the table just about every night. Her staple was meatloaf or Salisbury steak with mixed vegetables or succotash. And mashed potatoes made from a box.

When I was a kid, I wondered why we ate so much of this horrendous food. Only later did I realize our cuisine was less dictated by mom than by mom's pocketbook.

So I got thinking about succotash. I remember when I was a kid that it seemed like something fancy. Like there was 'mixed vegetables' and then there -- presumably amidst a glowing aura -- stood succotash. There was something so exotic about the name that it obscured the fact that we were eating lima beans and corn.

'Succotash', in fact, is an Anglization of the Algonquin word 'msíckquatash'; Algonquin was the language of the Narragansett tribe who lived along Narragansett Bay and western Rhode Island. The word basically means 'boiled corn' (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004).

'Recipes Tried and True' (an old cookbook of the Presbyterian Ladies' Aid) has a recipe for succotash that includes pickled pork, sugar, and butter -- surely making a sweeter meal, but not betraying the fact that succotash gained its highest momentum as a cultural force during the Great Depression when scraps of all sorts of things were thrown together in the name of economic sustenance.

So I guess mom was really just part of a long tradition of folks making an inch go a mile. After all, every scoop of succotash today means there will be one more scoop of green beans available tomorrow.

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