Monday, November 7, 2011

Three Sisters Soup

I have always liked the First Nations myth of the Three Sisters.  If you haven't read it before you really should skip to the end of the post and take a few minutes to read it as it is well worth it.  The three sisters are Corn, Bean, and Squash and the story tells how they worked together and used their individual strengths to help each other.   

I remember hearing it for the first time many years ago and thinking the story had such nice balance and symmetry.  Not only does it teach about the virtues of cooperation, but the story encourages companion planting, which scientists have now shown to be one of the most effective ways to grow healthy productive plants.

In addition, when corn and beans are eaten together they provide a complete protein.  So not only does the Three Sisters myth promote good village cooperation and advantageous agricultural practices, but it provides beneficial dietary information.  How many stories do you know that can do all that! 

I was reminded of the myth when we recently took our friend who was visiting from France to see Crawford Lake, a 15th Century reconstructed Huron village near where we live.  Crawford Lake has a couple of long houses, a fenced palisade around the village, small plots of land growing corn, beans, and squash, and signs explaining how people lived including the Three Sisters myth (please note that most of the crops are finished for the year so many of the photos I have put on this post were taken last summer).

I was inspired to see if I could make some Three Sisters Soup.  When I got home I Googled some recipes.  I found a lot of variety in the recipes.  The recipes called for anything from kidney beans, to black beans, to pinto beans, to green beans and from corn to hominy.  I chose a recipe that used black beans and corn niblets since those were the ingredients I had at home.

The recipe I chose (you can see the original here) was from the Moosewood Restaurant Soups and Stews Deck.  I adapted it to suit my taste and ingredients so I'll post the recipe below with the changes I made.  

1 cup mushrooms, chopped
2  onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons oil
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1 winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed (I used about 2/3 of a butternut squash)
1 red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped 
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups corn
2 cups cooked black beans
1 teaspoon cider vinegar 
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cornmeal

1.  In a soup pot on low heat, saute onions and garlic until translucent. Add mushrooms and saute until cooked.  Add sage and thyme and stir until fragrant.  
2.  Add squash, pepper, and stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until the squash is tender.
3.  Add corn and beans. Add vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.
4.  Stir in cornmeal until broth thickens slightly.

Serve with some tea biscuits or crusty bread.

It was so yummy and seemed like it would keep you full and satisfied all winter long.  Have you ever made this soup?  

Here's the myth of the Three Sisters (with many thanks to the Crawford Lake Interpretive Centre).  It is written as if it is being told to a young child in the village.

After the men clear the trees, the women spend much time planting corn, beans, and squash.  We call these plants the "Three Sisters" because they work together to help each other grow.  I remember when one of the village elders shared a legend to help me understand how the plants taught my people how to cooperate, be strong, and live in harmony.

Many moons ago, the people were very hungry.  The creator sent the Three Sisters to come and live in the fields around the village.   

The oldest sister, Corn, grew tall and straight in the field around the village, but the hot sun dried her feet and made her suffer.  In addition, the earth grew less nourishing each year that she stood there.  Here sister, Squash, laid herself at Corn's feet and protected her by keeping the soil moist and cool.  However, it was difficult for Squash to receive any moisture.  Corn's straight leaves caught the rain and funnelled the rainwater to the centre for her to drink.  To help her sister, Corn relaxed the ends of her leaves to allow some of the rain to fall to the ground and nourish her sister.  

The third sister, Bean, was so weak and thin that she could not support herself at all.  However, she could do something very special.  Bean could make her own nourishment in the soil, and this food became very valuable for all three of the sisters.  Corn grew tall and allowed Bean to grow up towards the sun.  Soon all three of the sisters were growing strong.  The people of the village saw how these three sisters worked together to live in harmony.

Linked to Wow Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style,
Fall into Fall - It's a Party at DIY by Design


  1. I love that story and especially LOVE Crawford Lake. That place has it's own magic.

  2. No, I've never heard this story before. But thank you. I'll definitely give this soup a try.

  3. Thank you for the story:) I think I might even try your soup, too!

  4. Great story, my first time to hear it! The soup look so delish! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  5. Grace, our kitchens ARE a lot alike! I'm jealous of your bookshelf at the end of your countertop though, that is a really lovely touch! Thanks for the sweet comment on remodelaholics.

  6. Hi,
    Ricki Jill sent me over to learn about your Three Sisters Soup.
    I hadn't heard the story before and thought it was wonderful, your photographs made it even more real.
    This is just the sort of meal we enjoy and I'll be tryng your recipe soon.