Sunday, June 1, 2014


When I said in my last post that I didn't know what succotash was, I meant specifically. I knew that it was food, for example. And I had a guess, anyway, that it had come from Native American culture. But, though I'm sure people do make succotash here, because California is a crazy quilt of cultures, it isn't really a California dish, even if Richard Sherman is from Compton. So I decided that I would find out just a little more about it.

Succotash, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, graces American written language in 1751. It comes to us from one of the Eastern Algonquian languages, and bears a resemblance to the Narragansett word misckquatash , which means "boiled whole kernels of corn", though other sources have it that misickquatash (slightly different spelling) means "ear of corn". We may never know precisely what the word meant to the people who first spoke it, because that branch of the language, like many others of the eastern tribes, is extinct. It is sad to think that the language of a whole people is remembered in only these English language traces. As a food, though, as early as 1793 it's recorded that New Englanders thought of succotash as referring to a boiled corn and green bean or lima bean dish.

A word it did not immediately occur to me might be related is "squash", which also comes from Narragansett. Not squash as in "to pound into the ground", but the food. The word was originally askutasquash, which broken down is askut--raw or uncooked, and asquash, which means eaten, the "-ash" at the end making it a plural. So according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "things that may be eaten raw". I don't usually think of eating squash raw, but you get the drift.

Because I always feel  bad about extinct anything, languages included, I decided to do a little research about the prospects of reviving this one. Although I didn't get so far as to find anything about the Eastern Algonquian languages, I did find something hopeful, so I thought I'd include it here. Remember the movie "The New World"? Well,  director Terrence Malick, with his usual thoroughness, wanted the native people of Virginia to be speaking their real language when the settlers of Jamestown encountered them in the film. He was set back a bit by the fact that the language had been extinct for about 200 years. Set back, but not halted. He ended up hiring a linguist named James Rudes to reconstruct the language. Originally hired to write two scenes, Rudes went on to write something like fifty. All the work he did is being turned over to the Virginian Algonquin tribes. It's an interesting story and you can find it HERE.

Probably didn't need a lot of Algonquian for this scene.

No blog post about succotash would be complete without a video on preparing succotash. I picked this nice southern woman because of her pleasant voice, but also to demonstrate that this food of the Eastern tribes went on to become a Southern cooking staple. I have to say that the recipes I immediately found were pretty low on fat and meat, but the Eastern Algonquins usually made it with bear grease...


  1. Thanks for the in-depth look at succotash! And also for the language stuff. I am preparing to direct The Language Archive, by Julia Cho, and this ties right in!

  2. Looked up the play, and you're right--quite related!

  3. Really interesting, as usual, Seana.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Thanks, Maria. I just pursue the things that interest me, so I'm glad to hear if they happen to interest anyone else as well.

    Good to see your comment, by the way. I came across your nom de plume on an older post I was responding to someone on, and had wondered what you were up to these days.

  5. I've taken a long break from blogging and have been working on my Facebook and Twitter profiles.

    I know you are probably busy, but it would be nice if you could follow me there and I'll follow back. It's a very efficient system and I've just uploaded a link to your blog.

  6. I haven't gotten on to Twitter yet, but if I do, which is possible, I will be more than happy to follow you. It's mainly that I find that the computer consumes too much of my time as it is that I haven't progressed any further into the realm of social media.