Sunday, June 17, 2018


I recently journeyed to UT Gardens with Stephanie Aldrich and crew from "Tennessee Life," a program about all things Tennessee from East Tennessee Public Television in Knoxville. As part of our segment on Appalachian Cooking, I had the pleasure of cooking up some of the vegetables grown by Holly Jones and the UT Kitchen Garden staff. Thanks to Holly and everyone at UT Gardens for allowing us to use their beautiful location.

Because I was unsure just what vegetables would be available on the day of our shoot, I chose a recipe that can be varied to suit whatever is in season, so long as you have an ear or two of fresh sweet corn. (I brought along corn from the grocery store.) The recipe I selected is one for succotash.

"Succotash" comes from a Narragansett word meaning "broken corn kernels," and indeed corn seems to be the only constant throughout the numerous recipes I looked at during my research on regional foods. Many folks associate lima beans with this dish, and most recipes call for the inclusion of some form of legume, but it is extremely unlikely that the Narragansett people would have grown lima beans. They grow in warm climates, like the Deep South.

The combination of beans and corn provides complete protein, with all the essential amino acids for a healthy diet. No wonder Native Americans often combined beans and corn. With the inclusion of yellow squash, the dish reflects the Native American practice of growing the "Three Sisters," corn, beans and squash, together in the garden. After the arrival of Europeans on this continent, new ingredients, such as onions, found their way into the dish. European herbs have mostly replaced the native ones in succotash recipes, but it is not hard to imagine Native Americans adding ramps, lambs quarters or some other greens. And down in the Delta, and probably elsewhere in the South, they add okra, which arrived on our shores with enslaved African people. Succotash is such a hearty vegetable dish, it is sometimes served enclosed in a crust, like a pot pie.

Succotash is, therefore, about as all-American a dish as you could imagine. Moreso even than apple pie--apples come from Khazakstan, originally.

Here is the recipe as it appears in Appalachian Cooking:


Two servings:

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup chopped red onion

½ cup baby lima beans, frozen, thawed or fresh, blanched if fresh

½ cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen, thawed

½ cup diced summer squash

½ cup vegetable stock

2 fresh thyme sprigs


Freshly ground black pepper

Warm the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook gently, stirring once or twice, for about 2 minutes, or until softened. Add the remaining vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

Pour the vegetable stock into the skillet. Add the thyme, a pinch of the salt, and a few grinds of the black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until you are ready to serve.

Serve warm.
The ingredients highlighted in yellow can be anything you like. I used scallions instead of red onions, fresh green beans instead of lima beans, and diced carrots instead of the summer squash. Just for fun, I also added a couple of sliced okra pods near the end of the cooking, to thicken the sauce.