Writer Mark Raymond as a little boy with his father, John Raymond, around the mid-1960s. Photo by Themia Raymond

My father made succotash and ate it alone. Along with American chop suey and the occasional boiled dinner, it was one of the few foods he laid claim to in the kitchen. He returned to these dishes whenever he craved a taste that he grew up with, something familiar, nostalgic, and, to him, redolent with comfort. His family, from solid old Maine stock, didn’t convey robust foodways to the marriage with my mom. These were people who put butter on their saltines.

My mother’s family was Greek, and, like many Greek American immigrants, they’d set themselves in the restaurant business. It sounds like something out of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but buttered saltines and a can of Habitant pea soup don’t usually hold their own against a spread of souvlaki and spanakopita, baklava and kourabiedes. My mother did her best to cook for a hybrid palate, relying on recipes culled from “The Joy of Cooking” and from checkout aisle women’s magazines, supplemented by America’s bounty of packaged and processed foodstuffs you’d see on TV, like Hamburger Helper and Rice-A-Roni.

A few times a year, after being served platefuls of moussaka and Prince spaghetti, perhaps overcome with a hankering as primal to his identity as a salmon nosing back to its ancestral stream, my dad would reach past the soup and Rice-A-Roni in the pantry and grab cans of corn and lima beans to begin the rite of succotash. There are well documented cases of people possessed by a craving to eat dirt. As I kid, I felt this way about my father’s bouts of succotash. I hated it. I’d learned to tolerate a Greek lentil soup, and baked beans with salt pork were a traditional Saturday supper, but a dish based on lima beans was too legume-centered to tempt a kid who’d tasted Hamburger Helper. When my father made succotash, he ate it alone.

He followed no recipe and certainly didn’t need one. No handwritten index cards, treasured and kitchen-spattered, were passed down from Grammy Raymond (née Foy). His version of succotash was simple and as easy as canned corn. It was canned corn, simmered with canned limas until hot, then drained, buttered, seasoned and consumed. I believe one could add an onion, and a chopped bell pepper wouldn’t hurt, but the substance of his dish was plain as a dirt road.

My father ate succotash as if on a pilgrimage. The rest of the family wouldn’t follow him very far down that road, but we respected his solitary foodways. For an irreligious man, succotash was for him a kind of Lenten repast; it returned to him a sense of community, a homely reminder of a shared table.

Succotash has an Indigenous heritage. It’s based on an Algonquian word, msiquatash, entering English usage from the Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island. Maine’s Eastern Abenaki probably called it something like mesikoota. For a household whose weekly menu planning regularly included unpronounceable Greek food names, succotash stood out oddly, a funny-sounding foodstuff that didn’t carry an English name but belonged to the language in a way that dolmathes and keftethathes never could.


Like the Native place names that roll off Mainers’ tongues, succotash has been jaggedly assimilated into the regional American idiom, or maybe it’s more like the language has adapted to it, the way salt-tolerant rosa rugosa has naturalized itself along Maine’s rocky coast. Like the use of the term “chop suey” in father’s other favorite comfort food, the name of succotash undoubtedly carries with it a history of cultural assimilation and appropriation, and whatever Americans eat today probably bears only partial resemblance to the dish that colonists first encountered on these shores.

I don’t know where my father picked up the recipe. Older directions for succotash, from back in the 19th century, called for boiling corn cobs along with the beans, a practice which would have utilized the starchy “corn milk” that’s also the secret ingredient for a great corn chowder. Chances are, with its colonial New England pedigree, succotash got a boost from the wave of Early American nostalgia that swept the East Coast around the turn of 20th century, but succotash really stuck to America’s ribs as a thrifty, filling meal that, like American chop suey and corn chowder, helped New Englanders eke it out through hard times, a type of Depression-era necessity mess.

However it survived, the dish retained a decidedly regional appeal. James Beard doesn’t mention it in his thousand-page classic “American Cookery.” A renewed interest in healthy eating in addition to thrift (switch olive oil for the butter and it wouldn’t be out of place in the trendy Mediterranean diet), on top of the added cache of an Indigenous provenance (the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian includes it in their “Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook”), has elevated the humble succotash to a restaurant-worthy dish. Outside New England, a Southern version has also developed.

I’m not sure which region first incorporated bacon, but if my dad’s recipe had included savory bits of salty smoked meat, I may have enjoyed it more as I kid.

Succotash ingredients. Photo by Mark Raymond


The recipe is dapted from Sandra A. Gutierrez, “Beans and Field Peas,” University of North Carolina Press, 2015. You rarely see fresh shelled lima beans in New England. My dad used canned vegetables. I’d used frozen. I add bacon and some spice here — crushed red pepper or smoked paprika, ½ teaspoons each or to taste will kick up the heat. And a vegetarian version using olive oil in place of the butter and bacon grease is a satisfyingly healthful dish.


5-8 servings, depending on use as a main dish or side

1 (16-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans (or butter beans, which are slightly bigger)
4 slices thick-cut, smoky bacon, chopped into thin bits
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (red adds color)
1 (16-ounce) package frozen corn kernels (or from 4 ears, using fresh)
½ teaspoon ground sage (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Cook the lima beans according to package directions and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, fry the bacon, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until barely crisp, 5-10 minutes. Drain off most bacon fat, leaving about a tablespoon.

Add the butter to the pan.  Add the onion and bell pepper. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the corn and cooked lima beans, along with seasonings. Cook about 5 minutes more until all is heated through.

Enjoy hot.

THE COOK: Mark Raymond, Portland and Owls Head

“I grew up in Maine, attending Bates and then New York University for a PhD in English, and I currently teach in the Honors College at UMaine. In the past, when I was responsible for teaching first-year writing courses, I designed a syllabus that used food writing as a way to engage a diverse group of students, allowing the topic to move them from personal essays to more advanced research projects. Helping these students find their voices, I got interested in writing about food as well. I have only been a home cook, making everyday meals and lunches packed for school, but my extended Greek American family once worked in the restaurant business. They brought vibrant foodways whose traditions I try to uphold. On my father’s side I have very deep Maine and New England roots.”

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