Succotash is a dish you’ve probably never heard of, but its story is one of history, science, and even cussing.
The word succotash is the Algonquin term for “broken corn kernels.” The Algonquin tribes are most famous for saving the colonists’ hineys during that first winter at Plymouth Plantation. While the colonists were insistent on growing wheat varieties that failed in the New England soil, the Algonquins had figured out a growing practice they called milpa.
Corn grows really well in New England. However, it requires a lot more nitrogen than the soil can initially provide. Beans, like limas or cranberry beans, are able to process extra nitrogen and make it available in the soil. When planted near beans, corn plants have all the nutrients they needs to grow very, very tall. Beans grow on vines and like tall things to wrap themselves around – like a trellis. Next comes the squash. Squash plants have with big, broad leaves and prickly stems. Those prickly stems deter pests and the large leaves act as living mulch. The compatibility of corn, beans, and squash is why they earned the nickname “The Three Sisters.”
What’s in succotash? In 1751 – when the food was first reported – it consisted of corn, squash, lima beans, and bear fat. There were also versions that included salted meat or fish – like jerky.
If a person eats a overly corn-heavy diet, they develop a disease called pellagra – a deficiency of the amino acid niacin. But, if a person soaks corn kernels in a lye solution, niacin becomes available for the body to absorb. Another way for corn to be made more nutritious is when it’s eaten with beans, which are rich in the amino acid lyseine that, like lye, makes niacin available. Succotash is a perfectly balanced meal.
Finally, we come to the cussing. While there is no evidence to the truth of this claim, I still like it. In the Victorian era it became very uncool to curse, especially about religious things. So instead of saying “Suffering Savior,” which might have been a swear, the phrase evolved to “Suffering Succotash.” It’s possible that the Looney Tunes’ creators knew this and used it on purpose.