No Suffering

Succotash

Succotash with Cheddar Cracker Crust

One of the truly iconic images of late summer is fields of corn, to quote a song lyric, “…as high as an elephant’s eye.” True, it is not late summer yet, but, while shopping this past weekend I had a choice of fresh peaches or early fresh corn, and almost compulsively chose the corn.

(Peaches or corn? Why not both? Hmmmm. I’m not sure.)

Anyway, why my “almost compulsive” choice of corn? I think it has something to do with happy memories of summers gone by. It should come as no surprise to anyone that someone who writes a blog measures nostalgia in meals partaken.

Granted us urban folk don’t glimpse fields of corn from the windows of the subway, but I grew up in suburbia, and in an era before every available square inch had been developed, so there were frequent views of open fields as we drove by in the station wagon.

I also have a Mom who is a daughter of the depression. Like many folks who grew up in the depression she celebrates her removal from that era by practicing a certain kind of food snobbery. When I was a kid she flat out refused to serve anything from a can. Chef Boyardee? Horror. This extended to other food as well: Supermarket bread? Are you kidding? (Except of course for Pepperidge Farm, back in the day when it was a little regional bakery.) (Not that she baked her own, but that’s what the neighborhood bakery was for.) Then there were also certain table manners: the ketchup bottle was never allowed on the table. You poured a bit of ketchup into a dish and that’s what was placed on the table.

The only canned vegetables that were allowed in our house were Le Seur Baby Peas – which were so fancy that Sex And The City fans may remember the Samantha character trying to seduce a Monk by donating a can of the peas to his food drive.

My Mother was a regular at what used to be known as a “greengrocer” which was the storefront version of a farm stand. Later on when my parents moved to a slightly deeper slice of suburbia she found and frequently haunted a real farm stand.

I’d hate to think that this all sounds as though I grew up in a stuffy home with a frilly Mother who tinkled a little bell when dinner was served. That was not the case.

On occasions when she would return from the farm stand with a big bag filled with ears of corn, we would all dig in and help shuck the ears. As I was shucking corn this past weekend in my own kitchen I was struck by how easy the task is, the surprise stemming from memories of childhood when – for little seven or eight year old me – shucking corn was hard work. I also remembered all the different ways there are to cook corn on the cob. My favorite was actually learned in adulthood: shucked, smeared lightly with butter, wrapped in foil, and roasted directly on the barbecue coals.

This brings up an important point: corn is hard to ruin, its dirty little secret being that it is actually perfectly edible uncooked. True, you can over-boil it. But in the sauté pan or roasting in the barbecue coals even if you overcook it slightly it is still good, if perhaps a bit toasty.

Now, you don’t need me to tell you how to make corn on the cob. Besides that, I eat my corn “de-cobbed.” (Long story: let’s just say this is due to adventures in orthodontia that would fill a whole other blog.) Anyway, fresh corn off the cob is my ticket to a bit of culinary play time.

Succotash isn’t necessarily as summer dish, but its key player is our summery buddy, corn. Besides, if you cook Succotash, you get to tell people that you cooked Succotash. Say it. Out loud. See what I mean? And if you bring a big casserole of Succotash to a barbecue announcing, “Hey everyone! I brought Succotash!” you may garner a laugh or two. (Past performance is no guarantee of future results.)

The definition of Succotash is really wide open, the only constants being corn and lima beans. I scoured the web and found as many variations as there are kitchens. My favorite finds indicated that a cracker crumb topping was a particularly popular finishing touch. Fresh corn topped with buttered cracker crumbs? I’m at a loss for a worthy adjective. Use a really sturdy unsalted cracker like oyster crackers or Neva Betta crackers for best results. (In a pinch unsalted Saltines will do, although the results may be slightly soggy.)

You’ll see from my “recipe” that there really isn’t a recipe, more like a “how-to” guide, so feel free to adjust this to your own tastes.

Actually I added a little “zetz” to this by changing the buttered cracker crumbs to a Cheddar Cracker Streusel crust by adding a healthy handful of the sharpest English cheddar I could find. This transformed a side dish that is almost an afterthought into a really great summer meal.  Be warned: this cracker crumb crust may find its way—cheddar cheese included – this coming fall on top of apples for a really amazing Apple Brown Betty.

Stay tuned!

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Click here for the recipe for Succotash.

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