The Three Sisters: Planting, Growing and Cooking Together
In Native American tradition corn, beans and squash form a sacred trio known as the Three Sisters: the physical and spiritual sustainers of life. Planted together, and traditionally cultivated and harvested by women, these crops grow in perfect harmony and support each other’s needs. The name Three Sisters originates from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), and while different communities have different stories about them, the common thread is one of interdependence and a strength that is far greater together than apart.
The Iroquios legend begins with the creation of the earth. While peering into an endless sea, Sky Woman fell from above and as she descended, the animals gathered soil from the bottom of the sea and placed it onto the back of a giant sea turtle for her to land on. And so Turtle Island - now North America - was brought into creation. Sky Woman then birthed her daughter, who in turn became pregnant but died in childbirth, and her mother buried her on Turtle Island. From the island’s earth, her body gifted the world the holy trinity of the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash. One was tall with billowing yellow hair and a pale green shawl; the next was clothed in a vibrant yellow dress and prone to wandering off when the sun shone; the third, not fully grown yet, was dressed in green and still crawled on the ground.
Modern day food cultivation knows this as intercropping, or companion planting. Corn is planted first, its stalks providing a natural pole for the beans to wrap around and climb. As they climb they provide nitrogen for the squash and corn to be fertilized. Squash spines and leaves provide shade, retain moisture and prevent weeds – and each plant attracts friendly insect friends that prey on those that might harm.
The Three Sisters also provide a nutritionally rounded meal: beans bring protein and the amino acids lacking in corn, while corn’s high carbohydrate content keeps energy levels sustained, and squash adds plenty of essential vitamins and minerals. Texturally, too, this trinity feels satisfying and complete. Our Three Sisters Stew is a tribute to these ancient life-giving ingredients, united in a warming dish that’s fittingly rich in protein, nutrients and native flavor, while nutty buckwheat and ancient grains millet and quinoa provide the perfect accompaniment.