A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 14, 2007
Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, Squash (Three Sisters Soup; Three Sisters Stew)

The Native American “three sisters” are the spirits of corn (maize), beans, and squash. The “three sisters” term dates to the 19th century and was probably first applied by the Iroquois tribe in the Northeast.

However, the three foods of corn, beans, and squash are also popular throughout the Southwest, especially so in Arizona and New Mexico. In the 1990s, restaurants began offering “three sisters soup” and “three sisters stew” composed (at least in part) of the three ingredients.


Wikipedia: Three Sisters (agriculture)
The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops of some Native American groups in North America: squash, maize, and climbing beans (typically tepary beans or common beans).

In a technique known as companion planting, the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each “cluster”, about 30 cm (1 ft) high and 50 cm (20 in) wide, and several maize seeds are planted close together, in the very center of each mound. When the maize is 15 cm (6 inches) tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between beans and squash.

The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants utilize and the squash spreads along the ground, monopolizing the sunlight to prevent weeds. The squash leaves act as a “living mulch,” creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests.

In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, fish or eel were often planted with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil was poor.

History Online
The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans & Squash
By Elizabeth Rump
To Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands the term “Three Sisters” referred to corn, beans, and squash. These three crops give a lesson in environmental cooperation that Native Americans still feel should be emulated by humans today. Environmental cooperation between vegetables and fruit? How? Actually, quite easily. The corn provides a climbing stalk for the beans; the beans provide nitrogen to the soil to nourish the corn; and the squash leaves spread out, preventing competition from unwanted vegetation and shade for corn’s shallow roots. 

New York State Museum
A Mohawk Iroquois Village
A Guide to THE THREE SISTERS Diorama
AN IROQUOIS AGRICULTURAL FIELD at the NEW YORK STATE MUSEUM

This diorama depicts the type of agriculture the Iroquois practiced when Europeans came to what is now Upstate New York, beginning about 1600. This exhibit strives to be authentic in all respects, from the major setting to the small details. The plants and animals displayed are accurate replications of those that inhabited the Iroquois world.

INTRODUCTION
Corn, beans and squash, The Three Sisters, were the principal crops of the Iroquois and other Native American groups in the northeastern United States, at the time Europeans arrived here about 1600. By this time, the Iroquois had been planting these three crops together for about 300 years. Corn and beans are not native to this area; they originated in tropical America where they were cultivated by early peoples, long before these crops were cultivated in the northeastern United States. Pumpkins and similar types of squash have a tropical origin, as well. 

Slow Food USA
Four Corners Gold Bean
Phaseolus vulgaris
The four corners region of the US—Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico—is the geographical namesake for the Four Corners Gold Bean.  In this region, the Zuni People first traditionally used this golden bean, which is also called the Shalako after a traditional Kachina dance. The Four Corners Gold Bean is a shiny, golden amber color that retains its color and elongated oval shape when it is cooked.  According to custom, the bean was planted as part of the Three Sisters Crops, a trilogy of plants—beans, corn, and squash—that buttress and compliment each other’s growth.  In accordance with this cultivation theory, the corn stalk provides a trellis for the beans’ upward growth, the squash shades the ground, preventing other plants from sprouting seeds in the same area, while the beans fix the nitrogen in the soil to keep nutrient-levels equalized for the other two crops. 

Inn on La Loma Plaza (Toas, NM)
Green Chile Strata
Layers of flour tortillas, green Chile, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses plus Jerry’s famous green sauce, all topped with a mixture of eggs, sour cream and seasonings to create a Southwestern breakfast delight! Served with a side of three sisters stew (corn, pinto beans and squash). 

Live Search Books
Legends, Traditions and Laws, of the Iroquois, or Six Nations
And History of the Tuscarora Indians
by Elias Johnson
Lockport, NY: Union Printing and Publishing Co.
1881
Pg. 202:
“It has pleased our Creator to set apart as our life the three Sisters. For this special favor let us ever be thankful. When we have gathered in our harvest let the people assemble and hold a general thanksgiving for so great a good.”

25 December 1891, Manitoba Daily Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba), “The Gods of American Indians,” pg. 7, col. 3:
Good and evil spirits also play an important part in their mythology. Among the good spirits are three sisters, who preside over the favorite vegetables—corn, beans and squashes. They love each other very dearly, and their vines grow in the same soil and cling about each other. The corn spirit is draped with long leaves and single tassels; the sister who guards the bean is clad in its delicate tendrils, while the spirit of squashes is clothed with the brilliant blossoms of the plant.—Washington Star. 

Live Search Books
Iroquois Past and Present
by Edward Hale Brush
Buffalo, NY: Baker Jones & Co.
1901
Pg. 57:
These divinities, if such they may be termed, are known as the Three Sisters, the Spirit of Corn, the Spirit of Beans and the Spirit of Squashes.

Google Books
League of the Ho-de’-no-sau-ee or Iroquois
by Lewis H. Morgan
New York, NY: Dodd, Mead and Company
1904
Pg. 34:
Several varieties of the bean and of the squash were also cultivated by the Iroquois, and were indigenous in the American soil. They regarded the corn, the bean, and the squash as the special gift of the Great Spirit, and associated them together under the name of the Three Sisters.

Live Search Books
Economics of the Iroquois
by Sara Henry Stites
Lancaster, PA: New Era Printing Company
1905
(Dissertation, Bryn Mawr College, 1904)
Pg. 128:
The most prominent of these divinities were the spirits of maize, of beans, and of pumpkins. These were called “The Three Sisters,” and were the objects of special reverence. Other spirits, even to that of the strawberry, were also worshipped, and thanked for their services.
(Payne, “History of America,” I, 464, note 1—ed.)

Google Books
Magic and Husbandry: The Folk-lore of Agriculture
by Lewis Dayton Burdick
Binghamton, NY: The Otseningo Publishing Co.
1905
Pg. 74:
In Iroquois legend the spirits of corn, beans, and squash are represented as three sisters, very beautiful females, who were very fond of each other and delighted to dwell together.

Live Search Books
Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants
by Arthur C. Parker
Education Department Bulletin, No. 482
Albany, NY: University of the State of New York
November 1, 1910
New York State Museum
Museum Belletin 144 Pg. 27:
Among the Senecas, in planting corn the seeds of the squash and bean were sown in every seventh hill because it was thought that the spirits of these three plants were inseparable. They were called Diohe’ko, these sustain us. (...) They propitiated the spirits of the three sisters by certain ceremonies.

Live Search Books
The Hidden Children
by Robert William Chambers
NewYork, NY: D. Appleton and Company
1914
Pg. 424:
Even my Indians sat silent and morose, stretching, braiding, and hooping their Seneca scalps. And I heard them conversing among themselves, mentioning frequently the Three Sisters they had destroyed;...
*Corn, squash and bean were so spoken of affectionately, as they always were planted together by the Iroquois.

Live Search Books
Iroquois Religion and Its Relation to Their Morals
by Morris Wolf
New York, NY: Columbia University Press
1919
Pg. 80:
An illustration of this interplay is found in the history of the role of religion in the raising of corn, beans and squashes. If the lack of mention be a proof, the Three Sisters were unimportant before Handsome Luke’s time and before the change from a hunting, fighting life to a farming life. But in the nineteenth century, under the new conditions already described, agriculture was recognized as the chief occupation; and the corn, bean and squash were the chief agricultural products. The Three Sisters consequently attracted more attention; they enter definitely into at least two of the half-dozen great religious festivals that had as a purpose the assurance of a sufficient food supply.

3 June 1995, Gettysburg (PA) Times, pg. B9, col. 1:
The all day event included Indian games in the morning followed by a lunch where the children were served three sisters stew with cornbread.

Google Groups: rec.food.recipes
Newsgroups: rec.food.recipes
Followup-To: poster
From: (Ruth Summers)
Date: 1995/12/31
Subject: Butternut Squash Soup

THREE SISTERS SOUP
Won cooking Olympics Gold Medal for Native Canadian Indian Woman
--It is delicious!
2 cups (19 oz. can) corn kernels
2 cups chopped green beans (processor or blender or by hand)
2 cups cubed butternut squash
1-1/2 cups diced potatoes
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp soft butter
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 chicken bouillion cubes (optional)

In a large pot combine corn, green beans, squash, potatoes and 5 cups of water. Bring to boil Reduce heat, simmer, covered for 1 hour.  Mash all vegetables in the pot with potato masher.  Blend the flour and butter together and stir into soup.  Cook another 5 or 10 mins. stirring occasionally.Add salt and pepper. 

This does NOT freeze well.  Serves about 10 or 12.

Google Groups: alt.food
Newsgroups: alt.food
From: “Claudia McCreary”
Date: 1997/03/07
Subject: Re: Three Sisters Soup

These two recipes are from The Three Sisters Cookbook on the Onieda Nation
web page:

Three Sisters Stew

l tablespoon olive or cannola oil
l large onion, sliced
l clove garlic, crushed
l jalapeno chili, finely chopped
4 cups yellow summer squash, sliced (about 1 pound)
4 cups zucchini, cut into l inch pieces (about 2 medium)
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 1 large)
3 cups green beans, cut into l inch pieces (about 1 pound)
l cup frozen whole kernel corn
l teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 16-ounce cans kidney beans, undrained

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and chili in oil about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently until squash is tender Yield: 6 servings Nutrition per serving: calories 310, percent calories iron fat 12%, sodium 360 mg, cholesterol 0 mg.’

8 September 1998, Gettysburg (PA) Times, pg. A9, cols. 2-3:
Three Sisters Soup
1 (15-ounce) can light red kindey or pinto beans
1 teaspoon oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup regular or brown rice, uncooked
2 cans vegetable or chicken broth (14.5-ounces each)
2 cups diced zucchini
2 cups corn, cut from the cob or frozen
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Hot sauce or pepper to taste
Yield: 4 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Simmering: 20-25 minutes
Open the can of beans, rinse and drain. Set aside. In a large saucepan, heat the teaspoon of oil and saute the onion, garlic and dry rice grains until onion is tender and rice grains are beginning to toast. Stir often to keep garlic from overbrowning, or add garlic later.

Add both cans of broth (you may use one can of chicken, one can of beef broth, too), the drained beans, diced zucchini, corn kernels, basil, oregano, cumin and hot sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until rice grains are tender and puffed up.
Adapted from the Michigan Bean Commission.

Live Search Books
The Iroquois
by Charlotte Wilcox
Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group
2007
Pg. 7:
THE THREE SISTERS
Corn, beans and squash crops supplied most of the food for Iroquois villages. The Iroquois believed that the plants were special gifts from the Creator. Each plant was protected by one of three sister spirits. To honor those spirits, the Iroquois called the plants the Three Sisters.

Iroquois women planted the crops together, and each plant worked to help the other grow. The bens provided the soil with special nutrients. The cornstalks served as poles for the growing beans. And the leafy squash plants shaded the ground, keeping the soil moist.

RCJ.com
Corn, beans, squash: Three ‘sisters’ of legend
DEBBIE SALOMON
ASHEVILLE (N.C.) CITIZEN-TIMES
Posted: 10/17/2007

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Legends grow from kernels of truth. Many stories are woven around the Garden of the Three Sisters—an Iroquois name for interplanting corn, beans and squash, the tribe’s “sustainers of life from the Creator.”

One legend tells of three devoted sisters who were being sent to live in separate hunting grounds. On their last evening together, the despondent siblings entered the forest to play in the moonlight. By dawn they had disappeared, leaving only a mound of earth. Growing from it was a cornstalk (the tall, slim, eldest sister), entwined with beans (the clinging baby sister). Under the stalk spread squash vines representing the protective middle sister.

According to Barbara Duncan, education director for North Carolina’s Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee women grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops together, with corn and beans planted in the same hill. No specific name described the grouping.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Wednesday, November 14, 2007 • Permalink