Learning to like the nutty, buttery lima bean

Lima beans were always a challenge when I was a kid. Freshly buttered, they would cool to brick-hardness in minutes. One tap with the fork tines tiddlywink-style would send them flying. One point if you hit another plate. Three points if you sank one into a glass of milk.

Succotash presented its own built-in problem -- how to quickly separate the edible sweet yellow corn kernels from the shriveled gray-green limas.

But the greatest challenge was Mother's: how to get us to eat them at all.

Dessert that followed any meal with lima beans was introduced not with ``Would you like Dream Whip on your Jell-O?'' but ``No dessert until you eat your lima beans!''

Only when I survived to adulthood -- without whatever sustenance one derives from the aforementioned legume -- did I realize the Olympic breadth of the game.

No one under 12, I found, ate lima beans willingly.

The single exception in my somewhat limited research was a friend of mine, Gladys Montgomery-Jones, whose mother, according to Gladys, ``. . . used to make a casserole so delicious that I'd make myself sandwiches from the leftovers'' (recipe below).

Today, I've done an about-face. The buttery, slightly nutty flavor and mealy texture of the lima bean make it one of the most elegant of the bean family. Lima beans are occasionally available fresh and always available frozen, dried, or canned. Lima-Vegetable Chowder 1 pound dried lima beans 1 large onion, chopped 2 large ribs celery, chopped 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt Freshly ground black pepper to taste 3 cups milk 1 16-ounce can Italian tomatoes 1 16-ounce can corn kernels 1/4 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

Rinse dried lima beans and soak in 6 cups of water for 6 hours, or overnight. Drain and cook beans for about 1 hour in large pot with 6 cups fresh water.

In large saucepan, saut'e onion and celery in butter until slightly tender. Thoroughly blend in flour, salt, and pepper. Add milk and bring to a boil. Add beans and their liquid, and remaining ingredients. Bring again to a boil; adjust seasonings before serving.

Serves 12 cold and hungry people. Mother Montgomery's Lima Bean Casserole 4 slices of raw bacon, cut up 1/3 cup sliced onion 2 cans lima beans 1 can whole tomatoes 1 clove garlic Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in saucepan and simmer 1 1/2 hours.

The following chowder is made with dried lima beans. They must be soaked for 6 to 8 hours, so plan ahead. Lima Beans Creole 1 pound dried lima beans 1/2 pound bacon 1 onion, diced 1 green pepper, diced 1 tablespoon flour 2 teaspoons seasoned salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 teaspoons prepared mustard 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 1-pound 3-ounce can whole tomatoes

Wash beans and soak in 6 quarts of water overnight. Boil beans 2 minutes, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Cook until tender; drain.

Fry bacon until crisp and set aside to drain. Add onion and pepper to bacon fat and saut'e about 5 minutes.

Blend in flour, seasonings, and sugar. Add tomatoes and simmer uncovered 10 minutes.

Add beans and heat. Sprinkle with bacon before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Good old '50s succotash -- canned style -- has become a nostalgic favorite. Two-can Succotash 1 can lima beans, drained 1 can corn kernels 2 tablespoons butter 1/4 teaspoon paprika Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in saucepan. Heat thoroughly and serve immediately.

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