Family gatherings can be tricky things to navigate through at any time, but for some reason they get a tad riskier at this time of year. Why is that?

At a recent Thanksgiving get-together it was decided for obvious reasons that we woundn’t rehash the recent elections and referendums, we wouldn’t talk about the Red Sox or the Patriots (what’s the point?), and we’d try to avoid those “who eats what and why” questions that occasionally come up at family events since the family now includes in-laws that have “dietary issues” that are best left off the table, so to speak, when it comes to dinner conversation.

So what did we talk about? For some reason we started talking about a succotash dish making the rounds of the table. You’re right. We were so determined to avoid the so-called hot button issues that we gladly jumped on the topic of succotash and rode it for all it was worth.

As it turns out, the dish that kept our dinner conversation controversy-free was called Autumn Succotash, made with corn, green onions, tomatoes and lima beans. My wife, Ann, said she made the dish because the picture in the cookbook looked so colorful. The only thing in the dish she didn’t like was the lima beans, but she threw them in anyway to complete the festive color scheme.

It was soon established that no one at the table of 12 liked lima beans – no one! Here were people that had all kinds of issues with religion and politics and career choices, but they all agreed that they never, ever, liked those little green beans.

When I got home from the gathering, I just had to Google lima beans to learn a little more about this universally despised legume that had provided us with a dinner topic.? Lima beans originated in Peru, and have been cultivated there since 6,000 B.C. Their common name comes from Lima, Peru’s capital city. So why don’t we call them LEE-ma beans? Google was silent on that point.

But I did learn that lima beans contain cyanide compounds, and that’s why many countries, including the United States, restrict lima bean varieties to those with low cyanide levels. How about we stop growing them all together? What’s wrong with that?? An article online said the lima beans grown in Java and Burma have 20 to 30 times the concentration of cyanide allowed in most Western countries. Why would anyone grow something like that? Who sets out to grow unpleasant tasting beans that contain cyanide – a highly toxic substance? ?After taking the trouble to grow the wretched beans with the high concentrations of cyanide, they have to be cooked thoroughly before eaten. Why? To allow the hydrogen cyanide gas produced to be cooked off.

Have these people ever thought of getting cans of B&M baked beans? You open the can, heat and serve. No lousy taste, no deadly cyanide – just tasty beans.? But back to the deadly lima bean. Let’s review and see if we’ve got this straight. Here’s a legume – the lima bean – that just about everyone on the planet dislikes, it just happens to contain cyanide and yet it’s been cultivated on our planet for more than 8,000 years.

But they do add color to your succotash and sparkle to your dinner-table conversation.

John McDonald writes books about Maine, and his latest is “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at [email protected] or 899-1868.

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