THE THREE SISTERS

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In traditional Haudenosaunee culture, corn, beans, and squash are the “three sisters.”  Although these three vegetables were grown in many Native American cultures, the term “Three Sisters” originated with the Haudenosaunee . In the Haudenosaunee  story of Creation, the Three Sisters grew on Turtle Island and were considered the life sustainers.

When planting corn, beans, and squash, Haudenosaunee gardeners rely on the natural relationships between the three plants. The bacteria that occur naturally in beans absorb nitrogen from the air and convert it to nitrates, which fertilize the soil for the corn and squash.  Beans are supported by winding around the corn stalks and the squash leaves provide ground cover between the corn and beans preventing weeds from growing and increasing the amount of rain that soaks into the ground.


CORN FACT SHEET



"Corn Spirit", moose antler by Stanley Hill, Mohawk




CORN

Corn was first domesticated by Native Americans over 6,000 years ago, in that part of North America today called Mexico
The job of growing the corn and other crops was carried out mainly by women. Today flint corn continues to be grown in many of the Haudenosaunee communities, mainly for use within the community. Corn exists today, not just as a plant, but also as a symbol.  It stands for Haudenosaunee identities.  It stands for life. And it stands for spirit.

BEANS

Beans were as highly regarded as corn by Native Americans. Cooking with a combination of corn, beans, and squash provided many of the nutrients needed for a healthy life. Many varieties and colors of beans were cultivated and they were prepared in a number of ways. They were soaked, flattened, fried into cakes, used in salads, stews and soups and ground into flour. beans are often used in combination with white corn to make cornbread and corn soup.


"Bean Spirit", moose antler by Stanley Hill, Mohawk


"Squash Spirit", moose antler by Stanley Hill, Mohawk

SQUASH

Squash was also very important to Haudenosaunee  people because it is very nourishing and can be cooked and eaten in a variety of ways. The winter squash such as acorn or butternut were often baked whole and flavored with maple syrup or honey. squash is also important to the Iroquois ceremonially. Rattles used by the Medicine Societies were sometimes crafted from gourds.

A FEW RECIPES

HULLED CORN SOUP
4 qts. dry Indian corn kernels
      1 lb. dry red kidney beans
3 lbs. salt pork
                             1 qt. hardwood ashes

Put enough water in an old kettle to cover the corn. Bring to a boil; add corn and ashes. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. This loosens the hulls or shells on the corn. When the hulls slip off the kernels by working between the fingers, drain the water and rinse corn in cold water, working corn with the fingers to remove the hulls. drain and parboil; drain, rinse and parboil again. Repeat several times until the parboiled water looks clean and clear. (A handmade basket is traditionally used for this purpose.)

When corn is good and clean, place it in a large kettle or canner with clean water. parboil washed beans separately until water is colored; add both water and beans to the corn mixture. Cut salt pork into small pieces; add to the corn and beans. Be sure to use plenty of water because the corn will swell as it cooks. Cook 3 to 4 hours, or until corn is tender, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed. Makes 16 quarts of soup.

BAKED BUTTERNUT SQUASH

2 butternut squash, washed              4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons honey                            4 tablespoons maple sugar

salt &  pepper                                      nutmeg

 Place the whole squash on a baking sheet and bake in a moderately slow oven, 325 degrees, for about 1 hour or until a fork will pierce them. Remove from the oven, cut in half, scoop out pulp and seeds. Dot each half with 1 tablespoon butter and 1tablespoon honey; sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon maple sugar, then season each lightly with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. return to the oven and continue to bake in a moderately slow oven, 325 degrees, for about 1 hour and 20 minutes longer or until the flesh is tender. Baste occasionally with the honey-butter mixture that has collected in the hollow of each squash. To serve, cut the pieces of squash in half and spoon some of the honey-butter drippings over each. Makes 6- 8 servings.

CORN BREAD

3 quarts white corn                   1 lb. pinto or kidney beans
3 pints sifted ashes (preferably poplar)

Cooking utensils needed:
cast iron kettle (5 qt.)
                sifter for flour
aluminum kettle
                         dipper
wooden paddle
                         saucepan (2 qt.)
corn washing basket
                  2 dishpans
sifter for ashes

Fill cast iron kettle ¾ full of water and put on to boil. When water boils, put in and sifted ashes. Stir with paddle until well mixed. Boil for 10-15 minutes. Clean beans and put on to simmer in saucepan for approx. 1 hour.

 Test corn by putting in cold water and see if outer hull comes off. If it does, drain corn into sifter basket and rinse in tepid water until clean. Use towel to absorb water in corn. Grind corn in food chopper, finest grind, sift 2 or 3 times.

 Fill aluminum kettle /34 full, put on to boil. Drain beans when cooked, rinse twice. Pour into sifted corn flour. Mix with the paddle. Add boiling water until well-mixed (approx. 4 dippers full). Too much water it will get mushy, too little water – dough will get hard. Fill dishpan with cold water. Dip hands in cold water; then pick up enough dough, make into a ball then pat it into a smooth wheel about 2” thick, dipping hands in cold water as often as necessary to keep hands from sticking to the dough.

 Place wheel on wooden paddle and put into boiling water and cook approx. 50 minutes. Check every few minutes and separate wheel (which are standing) so they won’t stick. Wheels are done when they float.

NATIVE GARDENING BOOKS:

“The Art of American Indian Cooking” by Yeffe Kimball & Jean Anderson

“Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation” by F.W. Waugh

“Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants” by A.C. Parker

“Native Harvest” by E. Barrie Kavasch

“Native American Gardening” by Michael J. Caduto & Joseph Bruchac

 

  • Corn is a plant first domesticated by Native American people somewhere over 6,000 years ago, in that part of North America today called Mexico.
  • There are hundreds of varieties of corn and all of them are Indian corn.
  • Those original farmers shared their knowledge as well as seeds with other Native peoples, and corn-based agriculture spread as far south as Peru, and as far north as New York and Ontario.

  • In New York State, corn began to be planted starting around 500 A.D.  It was just one of several plants cultivated here.

  • The Haudenosaunee women were the original farmers in upstate New York.

  • Iroquois men helped prepare the fields for planting by cutting trees and clearing brush.

  • After the institution of reservations and reserves men became more active farmers.

  • Today, flint corn also referred to as white corn continues to be grown in many Iroquois communities. It is used to make traditional cornbread, corn soup and mush.

  • Corn is food, but also a symbol for cultural pride. 

  • Corn, together with Beans, and Squash are referred to as the Three Sisters who grow from Mother Earth. The Three Sisters are the staples of the traditional Iroquois diet.              

*    The Mohawk name for Vrooman’s Nose is O:nenhstekrawa (Corn Mountain).    *