August 25

Celebrating the Three Sisters



You may have heard me say, “what grows together goes together” in referring to combining ingredients in a dish.  Foods that grow together seasonally tend to go together beautifully.  Just think of strawberry-rhubarb pie, tomato-basil sauce, or roasted apples with winter squash.

Late summer brings one of these perfect combinations:  beans, squash, and corn.  In addition to being a DELICIOUS flavor combination, these three items help support each other in the fields and complement each other nutritionally in the body. 

According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who grow and thrive together.  The Native Americans chose to plant corn, beans, and squash in the same mounds, which created a sustainable system that provided for soil health and fertility. (The full story of the three sisters is at the bottom of this post.)

In the fields, corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.

Nutritionally, corn, beans and squash are perfect partners.  Corn provides carbohydrates, the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds.

One of my favorite dishes that pairs the three sisters, is this succotash.  It is quick and delicious!  Give it a try and let me know what you think! 

Do you have any seasonal pairing favorites?  Let me know, I would LOVE to hear!! 

Until Next Time,

Happy Cooking!

Mrs. Dornberg

Legend of the Three Sisters:
“A long time ago there were three sisters who lived together in a field. These sisters were quite different from one another in their size and way of dressing. The little sister [squash] was so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green. The second sister [beans] wore a bright yellow dress, and she had a way of running off by herself when the sun shone, and the soft wind blew in her face. The third [corn] was the eldest sister, standing always very straight and tall above the other sisters and trying to protect them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yellow hair that tossed about her head in the breeze.

There was one way the sisters were all alike, though. They loved each other dearly, and they always stayed together. This made them very strong.

One day a stranger came to the field of the Three Sisters—a Mohawk boy. He talked to the birds and other animals—this caught the attention of the three sisters. Late that summer, the youngest and smallest sister disappeared. Her sisters were sad.

The Mohawk boy returned to the field to gather reeds at the water’s edge. The two sisters who were left watched his moccasin trail, and that night the second sister—the one in the yellow dress—disappeared as well. Now the Elder Sister was the only one left. She continued to stand tall in her field.

The Mohawk boy returned and saw she missed her sisters, and he took her in his arms and carried her to the lodge of his father and mother. Oh, what a surprise awaited her there! Her two lost sisters were there in the lodge of the little Indian boy, safe and glad to see her. They had been curious about the Indian boy, and they had gone home with him to see how and where he lived. They had liked his warm cave so well that they had decided now that winter was coming on to stay with him. And they were doing all they could to be useful.

The little sister in green, now quite grown up, was helping to keep the dinner pot full. The sister in yellow sat on the shelf drying herself, for she planned to fill the dinner pot later. The eldest sister was so pleased to be with her sisters again and so impressed with the help they gave the boy that she too began drying herself so the family would have meal to use as the winter went on.  And from that day to this, the three sisters were never separated again.

Three Sisters Succotash

Beans, Corn and Summer Squash are paired in this delicious, easy side dish!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Gluten-Free, Plant-Strong
Servings: 4 servings


  • 2 Cups Green Beans trimmed and cut if fresh, thawed if frozen
  • 2 Cups Corn Kernels fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • Avocado oil or Ghee or Coconut Oil
  • 2 Small Summer squash or zucchini cut in 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Chopped fresh chives or other herb or choice


  • If using fresh beans: Bring large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add green beans, return to a boil, and cook until tender about 4-5 minutes. Immediately drain beans into a colander and run cold water over until beans are cooled.  Set aside. (If using frozen, thaw, drain and pat dry).
  • Heat a large (10 or 12-inch), heavy skillet over medium heat (cast iron works great!). Add fat to generously coat (about 3 tablespoons total). Add the corn kernels. Stir to coat well, then add the squash or zucchini stirring to mix well and coat everything in the oil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until vegetable are starting to brown.
  • Add beans, and continue cooking until everything is tender, heated through, and lightly browned, about 8-12 minutes total. If starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, add water or broth, 1 tablespoon at a time, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan.
  • Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle with chives or other herb of choice and serve.

Mrs. Dornberg

About the author

Cheryl Dornberg is the founder, CEO and operator of Mrs. Dornberg’s Culinary Experience in Highland, IN. She is a Culinary Nutrition Expert and Certified Instructor of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition and believes that a healthy lifestyle begins in the kitchen, and every meal that you prepare yourself from fresh, whole ingredients is a step towards a vibrant, energy-filled life.


Gluten Free, healthy cooking, Open Content, Plant-Strong, vegetables

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