Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. Jan Hallett Weisblat (a.k.a. Taffy) would have turned 94 this September 26. So naturally I’m thinking about her. And it’s only a small step from thinking about her to cooking her favorite dishes. Both the thoughts and the food make me smile.
Each year that I can remember she kept her eyes open in August and September for what she called “pink beans.” They are also known as cranberry beans; when I purchased them recently at Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield, Massachusetts, they were labeled simply “shell beans.”
These fresh beans are encased in pink-and-white-mottled skins. When removed from their shells the beans themselves are also white with pink flecks, although they trade those colors for a less exciting uniform beige when cooked.
Whenever my mother saw them, she would buy them, take them home, and make succotash. I have a feeling the beans were grown on her grandparents’ farm when she was growing up because they represented home to her. Now they speak of home to me as well.
I made pink-bean succotash a couple of weeks ago in Taffy’s memory. She never actually measured the beans or the corn or the cream so the quantities below are approximate. If you want to dress up your succotash, add a little sautéed onion, some herbs, and/or a little bacon garnish. My mother never did so the recipe below is rather plain.
Its flavor is far from plain, however. The beans have a subtle but unmistakable nutty taste. When you throw in the corn and the cream (or half and half) and grind a small hill of pepper on top you end up with a dish fit for a queen.
The succotash embodies my mother’s ability to take joy in simple, everyday pleasures. If I can be half as joyful in my lifetime, I will count myself lucky.
2 cups shelled cranberry beans
2 cups water, plus more water as needed
salt to taste
the cooked kernels from 3 ears of corn
cream or half and half as needed (between 1/2 cup and 1 cup)
lots of freshly ground pepper
Pick over the beans, removing any that have turned brown.
In a medium saucepan bring the cranberry beans, water, and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy. This will take between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on the age of the beans. (The younger they are, the less time it will take.)
Stir the beans from time to time while they simmer, and be sure to add more water if you need to. At the end of the simmering process the beans should still have a little—but not a lot of—liquid in their pan. Do not drain off this liquid.
Stir in corn and cream or half and half to taste. The beans should be in a gentle liquid bath but shouldn’t be drowning. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is heated through.
Grind pepper over the succotash and serve it. Serves 6 to 8 hearty eaters.
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