Fall In Ontario Is Time For The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters: Corn, beans, and squash.

The Three Sisters: Corn, beans, and squash.


Guest Post: By Kathyrn O’Brien.


Kathryn O’Brien returns to Farm To Fork to share a fantastic recipe steeped in history, tradition, and science – perfect for the harvest season, and just in time for those of us who have leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner.


From all of us here at Farm To Fork, we hope you have had a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend filled with family and friends.


Happy Thanksgiving.



One of the things I love about food and nutrition are the numerous examples like the one below.


According to Iroquois legend1, corn, bean and squash are sisters who cannot be separated. The legend states that corn needs the company and help of her sisters and must grow in community. So the three sisters were traditionally grown in the same mounds, with the corn acting as a bean pole for the beans to grow up and the squash grew around them.


What is fascinating to me is that this tradition not only creates a sustainable way of growing the three crops, but it also creates a cost effective nutritionally balanced meal, which is just plain cool.


So how does growing the three sisters together create a sustainable system? First of all as we said above the corn acts as a bean pole for the beans to grow up. By the beans growing up the corn stalk the beans strengthen the corn stalk making it less likely to blow over in bad weather and be ruined. The bean plant is also a well know nitrogen fixer – which means it will provide a more fertile soil for both the corn and the squash in the next year’s crop. The squash acts as a way to “squash” out weeds from over taking the corn and bean plants, slows down the evaporation rate of the water in the soil, prevents animals from eating the corn and beans and also provides a great source of mulch for the next year’s crop.


How do the three sisters compliment themselves nutritionally? Well corn is a carbohydrate so provides you with energy. Beans are high in protein and when combined with corn, actually form a complete protein. Squash rounds out the meal by providing plenty of vitamins and minerals as well as a good quality source of fat if the seeds are roasted and eaten.


It’s just fascinating to me when science can support centuries of tradition. So enjoy the below recipe this fall and help celebrate the three sisters!



Three Sister Stew


  • 1 can beans well rinsed (black, pinto, or kidney all work well) 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 cups winter squash (butternut or acorn work well), peeled and chopped 14oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 -1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 cups fresh or frozen corn


Optional garnishes: roasted pumpkin seeds or cheese.


In a large pot, heat olive oil, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon for about 20 seconds. Add the garlic, onion, and salt, and sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add squash, tomatoes and chili powder and cook until squash is soft, about 20 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture is dry. Add beans and corn. Simmer until corn is tender. Adjust seasoning to your taste. Serve hot with roasted pumpkin seeds or cheese garnish if desired.



1 Click here for more information about the Three Sister Legend.