Any of you familiar with Sylvester J Pussycat, Sr. – that conniving tuxedo kitty with a slobbery lisp and penchant for being outsmarted by Tweetie birds and bulldogs – will recognize this malapropism on the formerly profane “Suffering Savior” (similar to “dangnabit” and other such socially acceptable curses). Sylvester is in fact a personal hero of Taliesin, my orange tabby – and I sometimes fancy that his wallowing meows faintly resemble Sylvester’s trademark phrase. Certainly, some of his antics are rather Sylvestrian – particularly the feigned angelic manner in which he pretends to “bathe” my other cat Sassafras when I find him pinning her down by the scruff of the neck behind the bookshelf. Or perhaps like the time I discovered he had tied himself up in a ball of my yarn while attacking it – but I digress.
Anyways, whether you know as much about old Loony Toon’s characters as I do or spend as much time likening them to your pets – what you might not realize is that there is more to this phrase than a talking cat’s minced oath. You might not know that what this phrase actually refers to is a delicious corn and bean stew that is simply the perfect thing to eat at this very time of year. A stew that involves no amount of suffering at all.
Deriving from the Narragansett word m’sickwuatash meaning “boiled corn kernels” – (The Narragansett are an Algonquin tribe of the East Coast that were rather prolific at the time of European settlement) – this stew was first recorded in a New England diary around 1751. Comprising from various combinations of shell beans and fresh corn, it became a great favorite of the settlers and was particular beloved during the Great Depression when it provided an inexpensive meal with easily obtained ingredients.
Now, before I share the recipe with you, let us discuss corn for a minute. Corn is clearly a problem. I will not go into the details here (if you’d like to, I’d suggest starting with Michael Pollan’s excellent article When a Crop Becomes King – or rent the fabulous documentary King Corn). Needless to say, we pay farmer’s billions of tax payer money to grow a crop we already have too much of – a crop that requires massive amounts of petroleum derived fertilizers, requires more pesticides than any other food crop – and has probably been one of the biggest contributors to obesity in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Not to mention we use it feed our livestock – despite the fact that they can hardly digest it and it makes them sickly – requiring the use of antibiotics and such. Enough said.
But I’d like to point out that good fresh sweet corn – organically grown and eaten sweet as candy the day it was harvested – is a far cry from the 78.4 million acres of field corn (a variety used for livestock fodder and processed corn derivatives) that show up invisibly in our diets and lives in the form of processed foods, conventional meats, plastics and so forth. Sweet corn – that grown strictly for human consumption – comprises only 2% of the corn grown in this country. The problem, then, is not about having an ear of organic corn here and there for a few deliciously brief weeks in late summer. Rather the problem is eating corn in your soda, your hamburger, your bun, your ketchup, your fries and your shake – out of containers made of plastic derived from corn – and using corn derived fuel to power your car to get these things – and doing so for every meal, every day. I think you get my point.
So, while corn is in season you have my permission to enjoy it, particularly if you try it in this stew. Any type of shell bean can be used, but I particularly like to use lima beans. Alter the recipe as you wish – adding in other vegetables you might have in your garden or that take your fancy at the farmer’s market – cherry tomatoes or the first winter squash are both nice choices. I like to be a little bit of a glutton and serve it with corn bread – but only because it’s late August, and the corn is ripe for the picking.
Serves 4. Based on the recipe by Jessica Prentice in Full Moon Feast.
- 1 cup dry or fresh shelling beans (preferably lima)
- 1 chipotle chile
- a knob of butter or a glug of olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 sweet peppers, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 3 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob
- 1 large bunch of collard greens (or kale)
- 1/4 cup packed basil leaves, chopped into ribbons
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup cream
- salt and pepper to taste
If using dry beans, soak overnight and then drain. Place in a medium pan with water to cover by an inch or two, and then cook on low heat until tender (about an hour). Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
While your beans are cooking, place the chipotle chile in a bowl and cover with a 1/2 cup of boiling water.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the fat. Once hot, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the bell peppers and continue to cook for several minutes, stirring frequently.
Remove the chipotle chile from the water, and mince. Add to the vegetables along with the chile soaking water.
Add the beans to the mix along with enough bean cooking liquid to keep the mixture somewhat saucy. Add the cobs (the part left behind after cutting off the kernels of corn) and the smoked paprika to the mix and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Continue to add bean cooking liquid as needed to moisten the mix.
Add the corn kernels and collard greens and cook for an additional few minutes. Remove from heat and add the cream and salt and pepper to taste.
Before eating , remove the corn cobs. Serve in wide bowls with a sprinkling of fresh basil to garnish.