When you think of Three Sisters, what images come to mind? If you’re a millennial, possibly you think of a trio of Kardashians, or others of a certain age might think of The Andrews sisters. But if you know a bit about companion planting, and the agricultural practices of the peoples native to North America, you will think, beans, corn and squash, this continent’s original three sisters.
Companion planting is when you plant a variety of crops in close proximity to each other so that each crop benefits from the presence of each other. The three sisters are planted in small flat-topped mounds about a foot high and two feet across. Corn is planted in the middle of the mound first, and when it is established, about half a foot high, the squash and beans are planted alternately around it.
Cultivating these crops in this manner allows for the most efficient use of the available arable land and allows for two or three or more crops to co-exist symbiotically beside each other, each bringing something to the table before they themselves are brought to our table. In the case of our three sisters, planting corn (or maize) provides a climbing structure for the beans so poles needn’t be fussed with. The squash spreads around the ground, protecting the soil from erosion and providing shade and helping to retain moisture and its spiny vines discourage pests. And the beans add to the teamwork by providing the soil with nitrogen that benefits all three crops. The original peoples of the western hemisphere practiced companion planting of the three sisters for eons, as much as five to six-thousand years ago. And of course it’s not just the plants themselves that flourish when cultivated this way, the nutritional combination of squash, beans and corn is a complete food source, providing all eight essential amino acids, complex carbohydrates and essential fatty acids allowing the tribes to thrive on a plant-based diet.
As such, cooking with the Three Sisters will provide a complete meal. And now that we are in the depths of fall, with beans, squash, corn and pumpkins everywhere, what could be healthier and easier to whip up than a delicious soup made from the three sisters? Here is a great, simple recipe that you might want on your thanksgiving table this weekend; you can thank the three sisters.
Three Sisters Soup
2 cloves garlic
1 rib of celery
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup canned or cooked beans of your choice
1 small squash; acorn or butternut, peeled and cut into 2 cm cubes
1 cup corn kernels
bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper
4 cups vegetable stock or water
Dice the onion, celery and carrot and chop the garlic. In a soup pot sauté veggies in the oil until the onions are translucent. Stir in the beans, squash and corn. Add the stock or water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Add bay leaf and thyme and cook until squash is soft. Season with salt and pepper