The Three Sisters

Enjoy a fabulous recipe from a Co-op chef paying tribute to the ‘Three Sisters.’

The date of October 12 has figured prominently in contemporary U.S. history as it has been used to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America. It has come under scrutiny more recently for the inherent misconception that “America” was there to be “discovered.”

“America” was already teeming with an indigenous population. These people had long-standing and very well-established cultures. As events would unfold their culture would not mesh particularly well with the new European visitors.

Fast forward a few years and we find ourselves on the windswept “New England” coast with a community of religious refugees. These settlers were ill-equipped to deal with the harsh climate and long winters. The Wampanoag people generously showed them local plants that could be gathered and eaten and also shared simple farming techniques that had been passed down for generations.

The Story of the Three Sisters

The technique that was shared is known as companion planting. Corn (maize) was planted first. Rotten fish was often added to the soil as fertilizer. A variety of climbing beans was planted next. It would utilize the corn stalks to climb so no poles were needed. The third crop was a winter squash. The squash leaves would help retain moisture, creating a microclimate of sorts. It would also keep the weeds down and deter pests with their prickly vines.

Together, these three crops would provide complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all 8 essential amino acids. This would provide the basis of a plant-based diet that the indigenous population could thrive on. Amazing though it may seem no chemical fertilizer, pesticides or genetically modified seeds were involved!

Variations on this system were used throughout the Americas, adapted for differing climates. One such adaptation featured a “fourth sister,” the Rocky Mountain Bee Plant, which attracted bees to help pollinate the beans and the squash!

Beans, squash and corn have all been raised in a responsible manner this year right here in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. You can still get many locally grown item in our amazing produce Departments. Our prepared foods sells a wonderful item called Southwestern Bean Salad, and it is great. The following is a play on that recipe, paying tribute to the “Three Sisters.” It can be made with local corn, squash, and fairly traded oil and beans.

Bean and Squash Salad


1 can black beans
1 small zucchini
.5 red onion
1 med. Red pepper
1 cup sweet corn
2 Tbs. chopped cilantro
2 cloves chopped garlic
.5 tsp ground cumin
.5 tsp Dijon mustard
3 oz. red wine vinegar
3 oz. olive oil
1.5 oz. lime juice
1 tsp kosher salt
.5 tsp ground black pepper


  • One 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed
  • Wash and small dice zucchini
  • Dice onion, pepper, garlic and cilantro.
  • Wisk the last 6 ingredients to make the dressing
  • Gently blend everything together in a large mixing bowl.
  • Chill
  • Serves 6-8
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Jamie King

Jaime retired from the Co-op in 2022. A chef at the Co-op for 11 years, he finished his career in inventory control and recipe development for the Prepared Foods Department. An Omnivore, his favorite food is chocolate but he will eat most anything. He lives by the lake in Grantham with his lovely wife and their dog Maddie.

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