That Thanksgiving belongs to New England goes without saying. Although there had been feasts giving thanks for the bounty of the land in the Virginia colony, in Spanish Florida and in British Canada, the federal holiday of Thanksgiving declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 traces its lineage to the 1621 harvest celebration of Wampanoag Indians and English settlers in Plymouth, Mass.
More from Zester Daily:
Edward Winslow, one of the governing leaders on the Mayflower, left an account of that thanksgiving feast that lasted three days with 90 Wampanoag and 53 settlers. The Wampanoag brought five deer for the feast. Although there is no surviving menu from this thanksgiving we know that most of the food was brought by the Wampanoag including various waterfowl, the deer, and corn.
It’s likely that the feast was held outdoors as there was no house large enough to hold all these people. Although migrating waterfowl and turkey were plentiful at this time of year, there’s no record that turkey was on the table. There probably were no cranberries, no sweet potatoes, and no pumpkin pie, although there was squash of some kind. One of the dishes they may have eaten was sobaheg, a Wampanoag stew of corn, roots, beans, squash and various meats, perhaps a precursor to succotash.
A New England Thanksgiving of today is somewhat codified, at least in folklore. One must have a perfectly cooked turkey, or at least an understanding of how to cook the turkey if you are a first-timer. Of course you need an excellent turkey gravy. Root vegetables are typical, as is succotash, boiled creamed onions, buttered squash, cider and cranberry juice to drink. You will have at least three pies because in colonial times hosts thought it appeared stingy to offer company fewer than three pies. Probably you would serve a pumpkin pie, a mincemeat pie and a Marlborough pie, which is a glorified apple pie.
Colonial evolution of a Native American tradition
Succotash became a traditional Thanksgiving dish thanks to the Old Colony Club, created in Plymouth, Mass., in 1769. The group favored this dish as part of their annual Forefather’s Day dinner, which was celebrated in early winter.
The original succotash is a descendant of a local Native American meal based on a corn soup made with beans, unripe corn, and various meats, especially bear or fish. Over time it has evolved into a kind of boiled dinner with corned beef, chicken, salt pork, white Cape Cod turnips, potato, hulled corn and boiled beans with some salt pork. Originally, the beans used were actually dried peas, but over time lima beans have become popular.
The word succotash derives from Narragansett, a branch of the Algonquin language, the word being msiquatash. Hominy are kernels of corn that have been treated in a special way, usually soaked in a caustic solution and then washed to remove the hulls. There are different kinds of hominy with different tastes.
½ cup dried split peas
2 cups whole grain hominy
1 Cornish game hen (about 1½ pounds), cut in half or 2 chicken thighs and leg
1 pound beef brisket in one piece
2 ounces salt pork in one piece
1 cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 boiling potato (about ½ pound), such as Yukon gold, red or white potatoes, boiled and diced
1 small turnip, boiled and diced
1. Place the peas in a pot with cold water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil and cook until very tender, about 3 hours. Drain, and pass through a food mill or mash until it looks like mashed potatoes. Set aside until needed.
2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil and add the hominy. Cook until it is half cooked, about 3 hours. Drain and set aside, saving 2¼ cups of the liquid.
3. Place the game hen or chicken, beef, salt pork and hominy in a large flameproof casserole or Dutch oven and cover with the reserved broth and the water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to just below a boil and let simmer, uncovered, until very tender, about 4 hours, adding small amounts of water if it looks like it’s drying out. The water should never reach a boil, though.
4. Add the pea purée to the meats and stir so all the fat is absorbed. Add the potato and turnip, stir and cook until the potato is soft and the hominy fully cooked, about 1 hour. Serve hot. Do not boil at any time.
Note: A modern vegetable succotash can be made by combining 2 cups of reheated frozen lima beans, 2 cups of freshly cooked corn scraped from the cob, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, a dash of paprika, freshly ground black pepper and ½ cup of cream in a saucepan. Cook until bubbling hot, about 5 minutes, and serve.
Top photo: Hominy is one of the ingredients in the original succotash recipe. Credit: Glane23 / Wikimedia Commons