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‘Thufferin’ thuccotash!” Succotash is a tasty dish 

Published 6:09pm Wednesday, April 4, 2012

“Thufferin’ thuccotash!” Whoever thought succotash (that mixture of corn and lima beans) could have inspired that memorable, alliterative expression. If you’re anywhere near my age, you remember it was Sylvester the cat who made popular those words: “Thufferin’ thuccotash.”

This Merrie Melodies cartoon character’s full name was Sylvester J. Pussycat Sr. and we first heard of him in 1945 when he was one of Porky Pig’s (th-th-th-that’s all, folks) four cats. The others were a wee kitten and two big, dopey felines. But it was only Sylvester, who a couple years later, went on to fame and fortune with his trademark expression “Thufferin’ thuccotash.” These actually were the first words he ever spoke on camera. Did you know it was the amazing Mel Blanc who did the voice of this tuxedo cat? Sylvester was a three-time Academy Award winner.

So I thought, “Here’s a great way to get into a column about succotash, a welcome dish that warms the tummy.

But I was wrong. It seems sufferin’ succotash, spoken with Sylvester’s pronounced lisp, is actually a euphemism for “suffering savior.” I would say whoever made that change was a genius. But savior or succotash, I’m going to muddle through with more than you ever wanted to know about succotash.

I think of succotash as a New England dish. Documentation proves that Squanto, one of the Indians who befriended the Pilgrims, made a peace pact with them and taught the newcomers to America’s shores how to plant maize (corn). The Algonquin name for succotash is msickquatash, while the Narragansett tribe called it masakwatas — no more off-putting than the name we use.

Maize has been grown all up and down North America and South America for centuries, but it didn’t make it to Europe, Asia and beyond until after the Pilgrims arrived on our shores.

Actually, Christopher Columbus was introduced to this New World vegetable (though it really is a grass) on one of his voyages when he landed in the area now known as Florida.

Maize started out small, bearing small ears covered with small seeds. But small isn’t the key word for today’s corn. Over the centuries, corn evolved to its lofty height — you know, high as an elephant’s eye — and size bearing large ears covered with large seeds, which we call kernels.

Corn has been a boon to mankind. Not only are there varieties of corn that, as a vegetable, feed many people of the world, but also some are ground into meal for cooking and other types are used for silage and to feed livestock. That’s pretty versatile.

We also know that with lima beans growing well in their gardens, Algonquin Indians combined the beans and corn to make succotash. As for the lima beans, they just happen to be the most nutritious member of the pea family. Yes, technically, lima beans are peas and grow well in warm areas of the world. They are known for their flat, edible, green-to-white seeds.

Once the Pilgrims got the hang of it, the making of succotash spread far and wide. And Southerners also claim this dish as their own. However, I’ve found cooks south of the Mason-Dixon Line are prone to substitute butter beans for the bigger lima beans. To me, there is something better about the limas. I have enjoyed many a meal where the main attraction was succotash spooned over a slice of buttered bread.

Lima beans take a bit longer to cook than corn, so you get them simmering in some water with a small piece of salt pork for that good flavor. When the lima beans are almost done (about 15 minutes), add the corn, which will cook in five to seven minutes. (For the best succotash, you’ll cut the kernels from the cob, and then scrape the cob to get all those little bits and the juices.) Drain the water from the pan, add some butter salt and pepper and hot milk — a little cream is even better.

This is going to be a soupy dish, so you will want to serve it in separate bowls, or pour it over a slice of buttered bread as I suggested. Welcoming and warming!

Thus we say farewell to Sylvester J. Pussycat Sr., whose only connection to that corn and lima bean concoction is his trademark expression: “Thufferin’ thuccotash!”

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