Thanksgiving, as it does each year, never fails to remind me of the lesson about Native Americans teaching the Pilgrims how to farm in the new land. The image that comes to mind from my early school days is an Indian planting a whole fish along with a few kernels of corn, illustrating, no doubt, the sensible farming practice of fertilization.

Using a whole fish for each plant was, of course, an exaggeration and I’m sure that the lesson back then had more to do with the spirit of cooperation between Native Americans and the new settlers than it did with farming methods. Still, the wisdom of Native Americans when it comes to farming is widely recognized. When it comes to the “three sisters,” it’s nothing short of pure genius.

The three sisters are corn, beans and squash. Believed to be natural gifts from the Creator, they’re the three principle plants cultivated by the North American Indians and are traditionally thought to be the sustainers of life. The genius comes from the Indians’ astute horticultural practice of companion planting: inter-planting these vegetables (although squash is technically a fruit) allows the sturdy corn stalks to support the upward twining pole beans, which in turn provide shade for the spreading squash vines that capture and trap the moisture necessary for the growth of all three plants.

According to legend, the three sisters should be planted together, eaten together and celebrated together.

Throughout the years I’ve featured recipes for each member of the three sisters, individually. Here’s a recipe for a vegetable stew that encompasses all three, including both winter and summer squash, and another for a silky winter squash soup.


Three sisters stew

Serves six

1 tablespoon corn oil

l large onion, sliced thin

l clove garlic, crushed

l jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

4 cups yellow summer squash, sliced

4 cups zucchini, cut into l-inch pieces

4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed

3 cups green beans, cut into l-inch pieces

l cup frozen whole kernel corn

l teaspoon dried thyme leaves

2 l6-ounce cans kidney beans, undrained

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat.

Sweat the onion, garlic and pepper in the oil for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently until the squash is tender.

Serve with steamed rice.

Butternut squash soup

Serves six

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons curry powder

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1/2 cup plain yogurt

Melt butter in a large heavy pot over
medium heat.

Sweat onions 2 minutes.

Stir in curry powder and cook an additional minute.

Stir in squash, broth, water, ginger and pepper.

Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Puree mixture (in batches) in a blender.

Return each batch to the pot.

Simmer soup until heated through.

Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt.

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...