The connection and interaction of nature and resources is what Native culture is based off of. The end result of this interaction is always food!
The Three Sisters, squash, corn, and beans are commonly used vegetables and resources for many tribes throughout the continent.
Traditionally, they are referred to as the Three Sisters because they grow in the same area and strengthen each other. The three help sustain each other for growth and nourishment. Beans are a source of nitrates for soil fertilization that supports the corn and squash. The corn stalks act as growth inhibitors for the beans’ vines and the vines also kept the stalks from collapsing in the wind. Lastly, squash and its leaves act as ground-cover for the prevention of weeds and the maintenance of water in the soil.
Natives believed that because these plants grew so well together, than they should be eaten together. So cooking with and eating them provided much of the nutrients needed for healthy living among Native people.
There are many variations of each of the three sisters. My favorite forms of each of these vegetables are homemade succotash, corn chowder, and baked beans. For as long as I can remember my mother made corn chowder and succotash at family gatherings, pow-wows, and just for dinner. I’ve tried countless other versions and recipes for each and none have every surpassed my mother’s recipes and techniques for these dishes. The same goes for my granduncle LeRoy’s baked beans.
Both my mother and my granduncle have had these recipes and general gift for cooking traditional foods all of their lives. Having learned from family members, it is traditional to pass down the skills to provide for your family. I have learned to cook the same way they have done, by watching and contributing in small amounts. This includes peeling potatoes, or just simply stirring the pot while my mother adds the ingredients (which she never measures out, always judging by the feel and the look of the fixings). When finished with meals like this, and sitting down to eat, you can always taste and feel the energy that went into producing the meal.
In a Native home, cooking is much more than just preparing a meal. It is a way to show your love to your relatives, friends, or even strangers by spending your time to nourish them.
Although most of the time the three sisters are used for nourishment, corn and squash were also used ceremonially. The hallowed out squash is turned into rattles for dancing, music and prayer. Corn was seen as a symbol for life, liveliness and spirit. Dried corn is hung on doorways of homes to give thanks to the Creator for life and giving these gifts.
For me, in order to provide and show my appreciation for both my family and the environment, I spend many of my afternoons during the spring and summer cultivating my family’s garden. I try to use as much of our homegrown vegetables to cook for my family and show my love in a traditional way.