Succotash — Plymouth Style
Larry Pizer, as Director of the Pilgrim Society, asked me years ago to provide some background information (and the recipe) for the preparation of a true Plymouth succotash. As I suppose you have heard by now, the question of proper Plymouth succotash is as contentious as any Southwestern discussion of what real chili consists of. The annual Forefathers' Day dinner is marked by a grim determination to judge and judge harshly whatever attempt has been made to recreate this sacred dish. Already the ignominious effort to foister a "summer succotash" of sweet corn and lima beans on the Forefathers' diners a few years ago (and by a native Plymouthean, no less!) has entered Plymouth mythology as a debacle of Olympian proportions. It is therefore a matter of some importance to understand what is expected, and recognize the fact that pleasing everyone is beyond the realm of human capability.
The true Plymouth succotash is a descendant of the primary Indian meal in this area; viz., a corn soup made with beans and various meats or fish. Ever since the first Forefathers' Day dinner in 1769, a traditional succotash has been prepared, often in a special bowl and with much fanfare. Over that time it has evolved a little, from a boiled dinner consisting of corned beef, fowl and salt pork with white Clark's Island (or Cape Cod) turnip, potato, hulled corn (whole hominy) and boiled beans (with some salt pork - not fatback) to a thick soup containing these foods. Earlier, the meats were served separately, with pieces cut for each guest, and the remainder was made into a soup with some of the fowl. All of the leftovers were put in the soup the following day. Some mossbacks still insist this is the only true succotash but it is both bland and expensive for today's tastes (I can hear their anguished howls even now at such blasphemy).
However, for the last generation or two, it has become acceptable to prepare it all as a soup which can accompany a meal, and that is what I would think is what you should do. 20 years ago, it was generally available from the traditional restaurants in the area such as Currier's, but no longer. The finished product should be a pale thick soup, in which 1/2" pieces of gray corned beef (not red if possible), and boiled fowl, with cubed potatoes and white (the proper kind is a large green-topped turnip found very occasionally in stores in the fall, but purple tops are o.k. - not yellow rutabaga!) turnips and hulled corn (the only way to get this commercially is to use the white and yellow whole hominy from I.G.A., or Goya) thickened with a pureed bean paste. There is no seasoning beyond a little extra salt.
The best way to go about it is:
Plymouth Succotash for 100 people (or 150 as 1st course) :
25 lb. gray corned beef
5 5lb. fowl
5 lb. lean salt pork
6 lb. dry white navy beans
20 lb. boiling potatoes
10 lb. white green-top turnip
20 15 oz. cans whole hominy (5 cans yellow)
Put all the meats in cold water and boil until tender, then drain, reserving the skimmed broth as stock to cook the vegetables. Bone and dice the meats, and reserve. The beans take a long, slow cooking in some of the fat broth until they can be pureed in a food processor. The puree is then reserved, and care must be taken to cool both beans and broth lest they sour, which is a frequent disaster with this dish. The potatoes, white turnip and hulled corn should be cooked in the broth. Before serving, mix meat and veg. together and add the bean puree as it is heated. Be careful it neither burns on nor sours - small batches help. If it comes out well, the diners will usually ask to buy the remainder by the quart. It reheats particularly well, and can be easily frozen.
Here are some traditional Plymouth recipes (modern comments in brackets; about 3 -4 of these batches for 100 people):
"Mrs. Barnabas Churchill's Succotash (early 19th cent.)
1 quart large white beans [dry]
6 quarts hulled corn (smutty white Southern best)
6 - 8 lb. corned beef (second cut rattle rand)
1 lb. salt pork (fat & lean)
4 - 6 lb chicken [fowl best]
1 large French white turnip
8 - 10 medium sized potatoes.
Soak beans overnight. In the morning simmer in soft water until beans are soft enough to mash and water is nearly absorbed. About eight o'clock, put salt pork and corned beef into very large kettle of cold water. Skim as they begin to boil. Clean and truss chicken and add to meat about 1 1/4 hours before dinner time. Allow longer if fowl is used. Be sure to have plenty of water in kettle. Two hours before dinner time put mashed beans and hulled corn into kettle with some of the fat from the meat to keep them from sticking. Add enough liquor [stock] from the meat so that the mixture will absorb it all but not be too dry. Cut turnip into inch slices, add to meat about eleven o'clock. Add potatoes, one half hour later. Remove chicken when tender and serve whole. Serve beef and pork together, the chicken, turnip, and potatoes in separate dishes, - the beans and corn in the Succotash Bowl. The meat generally salts the mixture enough [but it may not today]. Save the liquor from the meat to warm the corn and beans the next day, serving the meat cold. Like many other dishes, this is better warmed over."
" Mrs. Catherine E. Russell's Succotash (1914)
Boil two fowls in a large kettle of water. At the same time, boil in another kettle 1/2 pound of lean [salt] pork and two quarts of common white beans, until like soup. When the fowls are boiled, skim off the fat and add a small piece of corned beef, 1/2 of a turnip sliced and cut small, and 5 or 6 potatoes sliced thin. When cooked tender, take out the fowls and keep them in the oven with the pork. The soup of beans and pork should be added to the water the fowls and beef were boiled in. Add salt and pepper. Four quarts of hulled corn, having been boiled soft, are added to the soup. Before serving, add the meat of one fowl. The second fowl should be served separately, as also the corned beef and pork."
" Haire's Restaurant Succotash (1930)
5 -6 lb. Fowl 5 lb. Corned Beef
2 quarts Hulled Corn 1 quart Beans (2 lb.)
2 lb. Turnip 4 lb. potatoes.
Boil fowl and corned beef, separately or together for 3 hours. Stew beans and mash, [takes] about one day. Boil potatoes and turnip together in [combined meat broth] liquor - diced about 1/ inch. Add beans and hulled corn. Set aside to freeze. Shred meat when reheating."