3 Sisters to Invite to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is America’s biggest food holiday. While it is full of traditions, passion, and debates about pie flavor, football, and canned or fresh cranberry, there is no need to find meaning in the food. There are many family recipes and dishes that have special memories for families. I want to think that people also have a purpose behind the holiday itself, beyond the stereotypes of pilgrims, Indians, and turkeys.

As a food writer, I have edited hundreds of Thanksgiving articles and recipes. I have also attended events that explored the evolution of Thanksgiving’s traditional foods through historical cookbooks and menus. And, of course, there are plenty of heated debates about whether or not “American” food exists.

In my quest for answers, I became fascinated with Indigenous ingredients. Especially what (keep calm) is probably the most American of all foods: the Three Sisters. This is the oldest agricultural tradition in North America, and it has been ingrained in the hearts of many who live here. From experience, I know that many people do not understand the meaning of the word and are unable to guess its three ingredients. We can all pay tribute to the First Nations people who had to give up their food and to their ingenuity to grow it.

What are the Three Sisters?

When beans, squash, and corn are grown together, they form a symbiotic relationship. Native Americans in North America realized that these crops had a symbiotic relationship.

Squash leaves provide shade, keeping the soil moist and preventing weeds.

Lois Ellen Frank, a culinary anthropologist with a PhD on Native American cuisine and its discourse, says that “it’s permaculture done right.” “They have a completely sustainable relationship with how they grow, how they feed people and how they nurture them,” says Dr. Lois Ellen Frank.

They have come to symbolize the strength of family bonds. These foods have been a source of sustenance for communities.

This is part of their creation story,” says Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe in South Dakota. That’s a part of the creation story of their sisters,” says Sean Sherman of the Oglala Lakota tribe in South Dakota. He is also known as the Sioux chef. In Minneapolis, he established the Indigenous Food Lab and North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS), where he will open Owamni Restaurant in 2021.

Chef Tawnya Brant from the Mohawk tribe tells the story. I’ve condensed it to say: “When Sky Woman first came to Earth, she gave birth to a daughter, and then her daughter got pregnant and had twin boys. The good twin was born as he should have been, but the bad one couldn’t. He came out from her side, and she died during childbirth. Sky Woman had some seeds when she fell but never planted them. When her daughter died, she placed them on Sky Woman’s grave. Purple potatoes, corn, beans, and squash all grew from her hands and feet. Strawberries came from the heart. “To me, those are all sisters.”

She says that companion planting can be a way to communicate a connection with nature. You’ll notice that in Haudenosaunee, we call Mother Earth our grandmother. The sun is our older sibling. And these foods on this land, our sisters. It’s their responsibility. “Everything in this universe is connected to the Haudenosaunee culture and teachings.”

Symbolizing sustenance

Sherman explains why so many tribes still in existence today are using the companion planting technique because the crops have spread across the U.S.A., Mexico, and South America. He says that many diverse communities around the world use the concept of three sisters.

Chef Nephi Craig, an Apache from Navajo County in Arizona, founded the Native American Culinary Association. Chef Nephi Craig began his culinary career when the dominant French and American Southwest cuisines didn’t acknowledge Indigenous culture.

Craig says, “I wanted to find something that was related to my childhood and how we ate together. I didn’t realize it at first.” When I found the story of the three sisters, it gave me a deeper understanding of those cultivars. It also opened the door to the journey to understand how Indigenous foodways have changed the world from a gastronomic standpoint.

Craig realized that chefs who were successful in other cuisines used the three sisters, but they didn’t know the origins of the trio.

He says, “It validated something I felt was lacking in the American culinary narrative.” “It’s empowering to me as an individual who felt isolated because I wanted to do something about Native foods.

Craig teaches cooking classes in his capacity as the coordinator of the nutritional recovery program at the Rainbow Treatment Center of his community and the chef at Cafe Gozhoo – a vocational training center for recovering drug and alcohol users. He uses the three sisters to teach students. The metaphor of the symbiosis of the three sisters conveys the idea of working together with students as young as 12.

He explains that “three sisters can be used as evidence to support those conversations.” “To us, this is our evidence of ancestral wisdom, our skills in Indigenous agriculture and Indigenous science, as well as our bioengineering abilities.”

Brant, the owner and chef of Yawekon in Ontario, Canada, explains the deeper meaning behind the story of the three sisters. Our stories are told orally and are not written down. They are simple but contain many concepts. You’ll have something simple in your head that will help you later in life when you need answers.

Symbolizing strength

Crystal Wahpepah, a chef from the Kickapoo Tribe in Oklahoma, lauds “the goodness of the nutrients” and how they represent strength to her community.

Together, the three have nearly every nutrient needed to sustain life, says Dr. Frank. She is also the co-author of Soil to Sky, a plant-based book featuring eight “foods Native Americans gave to the world.”

Beans are rich in plant protein, while corn and squash are good sources of vitamin C. All three also contain fiber that aids digestion.

Wahpepah stresses Native foods as a medicine and method of speaking out. She says that one of the best ways to communicate with someone is by serving them beautiful food from their culture.

Wahpepah, who runs Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland, California, serves a Three Sister Veggie Bowl, which includes cracked corn and tepary beans. Craig makes a Three Sisters Salad at Cafe Gozhoo with hominy and marinated heirloom beans. Sherman serves a Three Sisters Stew made with hominy and squash broth. Tepary beans are also included.

“The three sisters have been a constant.” “They are always on our menus, in different forms,” Craig says.

He cooks cornbread using fresh corn cobs. Wahpepah roasts Hubbards, grills them, and then purees the squash. She uses it in soups and stews. Sherman offers a tepary beans dip, caramelized corn with tomatoes and onions, and a dessert of squash caramel.

Why are certain things together? Why do certain things go together? Brant poses. Brant poses. You cannot stand alone. It would be best if your community supported you. “Creation is all interconnected” is all those teachings rolled into one.

What are we supposed to celebrate?

Symbolizing support

Include the three sisters as part of your Thanksgiving meal to give it more meaning and to recognize the people who have been misrepresented by the holiday for so long. Corn, beans, and squash are sure to spark a conversation that could lead to a positive change.

Sherman encourages people to “take some steps” to indigenize their dishes to show respect and honor to the Indigenous Communities that live here. But you don’t have to wait for a holiday in order for people to do this. They could do that at any time.

Dr. Frank and Walter Whitewater of the Dine Nation promote Native American cuisine and ingredients year-round through Red Mesa Catering, cooking classes, and health education. She says that Red Mesa’s philosophy is to buy locally, know your farm, and eat seasonally. “That is one of the most sustainable ways and ways to live in accordance with tradition.”

Craig proposes breaking away from the Colonial tradition. He says that the old story about colonists and Native Americans sharing a meal is reprehensible. It’s not true, and we are finally in a time where it is safe to discuss that.

Crystal is at peace with the day by serving breakfast burritos to people in the Bay Area. She says that many Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, but the name doesn’t matter. It’s about sharing food.

How to find the three sisters and how they can be used for Indigenous gatherings

Bow & Arrow Brand offers blue, white, yellow, and mixed cornmeal, plus whole grain and yellow corn polenta, online from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Colorado at bowandarrowbrand.com.

Dream of Wild Health is a vendor at the Four Sisters Farmers Market, Minneapolis, from May to Oct., selling beans, winter squash, and maize, among other products grown by Ojibwe. Learn more at dreamofwildhealth.org.

The Indigenous Food Lab Market ships organic black, Great Northern, and pinto beans, as well as dried corn, from Minneapolis. Shop online at iflmarket.square.site.

The Iroquois White Corn Project sells hand-grown and harvested heirloom White Corn in Seneca One Stop convenience store upstate New York.

Ramona Farms sells brown and white tepary beans from the Akimel O’odham Native People in Arizona and Tohono O’odham Native People in Colorado. They also distribute corn flour and grain from the Hopi tribe in Arizona and the Pima tribe in Arizona. This is available through restaurants and retailers in Arizona, California, and Colorado. Find a local distributor at Ramonafarms.com.

SweetGrass Trading Company sells Indian corn online from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. You can also order Ramona Farms’ beans and corn at sweetgrasstradingco.com.

Tocabe in Denver has created an online marketplace to distribute Indigenous ingredients. shoptocabe.com includes black, brown, and white tepary beans from Ramona Farms; GA’IVSA Pima Corn, also from Ramona Farms; and white and yellow grain from Bow & Arrow. The American Indian restaurant has also created Harvest Meals, which can be delivered in the contiguous state.

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