Sufferin’ Succotash! I Forgot Thoreau’s Birthday

Thoreau's succotash

      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. 

Thoreau the Minimalist and Saint

Succotash cabin

     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.

Thoreau the Hypocrite and Smug Humorless Bore

     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, 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.

Thoreau the Foody

    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.

Succotash beans

     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.

A Succotash in His Honor

     In honor of his belated birthday, I am including my recipe for succotash. 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 peppers, sweet corn, peas, etc. I did include the white bean which was one of his favorites. It’s available 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 you get to continue your life of quiet desperation.

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