Succotash a la Thoreau


     I know this is a sneaky way to introduce a great recipe for succotash, but it’s a given – almost every succotash recipe contains beans. And when beans are mentioned, two personalities usually come to mind: Duke (the dog in the Bush’s Baked Beans commercial) and Henry David Thoreau.

     Duke is not important here, but Thoreau is. He was born on July 12, 1817 and died at the age of 44. If his life hadn’t been cut short by tuberculosis, he would have celebrated his 200th birthday this year. As the longest living environmentalist, I’m sure NPR would have interviewed him. And hearing this would have reminded me of his birthday. 

    There was a lot to admire about Thoreau. He believed in or took part in abolitionism, conscientious objection, environmentalism and nonviolent resistance. He fought taxes, tried to live as self-sufficiently as he could, and was a strong advocate of the simple life. Alcohol, tobacco, meat, and music were many of the things he shunned. 

     He also shunned marriage. From what I have read, there was nary a mention of any relationship with the fairer sex. He evidently was not the swinging single of the 1800s.

    As to Thoreau being a saint, Donovan Hohn was having none of it. He wrote an article in the New Republic magazine entitled “Everybody Hates Henry” (and I’m paraphrasing):

     Thoreau was conceited, indolent, and egotistical. Also: a failure, selfish, self-involved, useless, unimaginative, provincial a hypocrite, and a humorless boor. He’d spurned humanity’s company, and therefore didn’t know anything about the mass of men and their quiet desperation. He was a narcissist who looked out at the world and saw his own reflection. Thoreau only played at rugged self-sufficiency while squatting on borrowed land in a house built with a borrowed axe. 

     He was hardly the pillar of self-sufficiency and seeker of solitude. According to several sources of mine, he would return home often. During his visits his mother would do his laundry, and she would also send food home with him. It was noted he especially loved her pies and cookies.

     Many think he was strictly a vegetarian, but this isn’t completely true. He did prefer vegetables, but he had been known to eat whatever he was served when seated at someone else’s table.

     He was very fond of beans. In his book, Walden, Thoreau wrote “my beans, the length of whose rows, added together, was seven miles.”  I personally doubt this is true. According to my research, the perimeter of Walden pond is 1.7 miles. This means his rows could have circumvented the pond almost 4 times. Hmmm. This seems like a lot of beans for one man; however, it was mentioned that he often would barter his beans for other foodstuff.

     I too am very fond of beans. They are inexpensive and a great natural source of protein. It’s been shown they help to prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The U.S.D.A. recommends women consume 1 1/2 cups of beans weekly and men consume 2 cups. They can be part of a weight control program – the high fiber content in beans fills us up so we eat fewer calories.

     I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the obvious; they also help to keep us regular. According to medical science this is important. It’s a proven fact that those who don’t poop don’t live, and those who do poop live.  In other words, those who don’t do do0-doo don’t, but those who do do doo-doo do.

In His Honor

     I am including my recipe for succotash in honor of his belated birthday. The original recipe can be found in the September 2017 Men’s Journal. For my recipe, click on “Succotash à la Thoreau.” I’ve altered the original so it’s more suitable to my tastes.

     You can cook this recipe for your guests in his honor. It contains many of the crops of the summer season such as tomatoes, sweet corn, peas, etc. I did include the white bean which was one of his favorites. You can buy it dried or canned. So that the summer veggies can shine through, I have cut down on the amount of beans listed in the original recipe.

     So, here’s to Henry David Thoreau and to you, good reader. I hope you enjoy your succotash and your life of quiet desperation.

Succotash A La Thoreau

yields: 4-6 Servings prep time: 35 min cook time: 25 Minutes
Share this recipe:


3 Tbsp 1/2 1 clove 1 1 1 2 ears 2 cups 1/2 cup 1/4/ cup To taste 1 Tbsp 1 oz. 2 Tbsp 1 cup
Butter Onion sweet thinly sliced Garlic minced Bell pepper red, diced Bell pepper green, diced Bell pepper yellow, diced Corn, cut off cob Peas (about 1 1/2 libs) Vegetable of chicken stock Heavy cream Salt and pepper Lemon juice fresh Cheese Asiago or Premson grated Herbs minced (your choice) Cooked white beans (rinsed)
  • 3 Tbsp
  • 1/2
    Onion sweet thinly sliced
  • 1 clove
    Garlic minced
  • 1
    Bell pepper red, diced
  • 1
    Bell pepper green, diced
  • 1
    Bell pepper yellow, diced
  • 2 ears
    Corn, cut off cob
  • 2 cups
    Peas (about 1 1/2 libs)
  • 1/2 cup
    Vegetable of chicken stock
  • 1/4/ cup
    Heavy cream
  • To taste
    Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp
    Lemon juice fresh
  • 1 oz.
    Cheese Asiago or Premson grated
  • 2 Tbsp
    Herbs minced (your choice)
  • 1 cup
    Cooked white beans (rinsed)


Separately mis en place onion, garlic and peppers, beans, cream, lemon juice, and cheese.

Add to bowl corn, peas, and stock.


Time: 35 MIN

  1. Mis en place all ingredients. Have at the ready.

Time: 25 Minutes

  1. Heat butter in large skillet over med-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently until translucent, about 4 minutes.

  2. Add garlic and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers have barely softened, about 5 minutes.

  3. Toss in corn, peas, and stock, and bring to a bare simmer (no hard boiling). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the stock is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

  4. Add beans.

  5. Add cream. If you’ve added beans, add an extra 1/2 cup of stock, simmer, and stir until liquid has thickened and everything is warmed through. About 2 minutes.

  6. Remove from stove, season with plenty of salt and pepper, and stir in lemon juice.

  7. Gently fold in cheese and herbs and transfer to a serving bowl.

Serve with chicken or shrimp (our favorite). Corn bread also goes well with this.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.