Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

The Three Sisters of Life

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: holidays, gardening, corn, squash, beans,

My fellow GRIT bloggers are quite a creative bunch, and I’ve learned quite a lot from them during the short time I’ve been blogging here. I’ve learned how to build various styles of chicken coops, (though I have no chickens); I’ve learned how to make soap and can apples; I’ve read about the trials and successes of homesteading and starting a farm. There are mulefoot hogs, jujubes, and black bear stories; book and movie reviews, and a narrow escape from a tire flying through a window. The bloggers allow us to see into their lives through their stories, and share with us places we’ve never been, and things we’ve never seen. From the knowledge of their experience, we learn. The readers who take the time to comment on these blogs and share their own experiences, enrich the stories and make them grow. It’s a lot like gardening in a way: gardeners teach what they’ve learned – often by “trowel” and error; they share from their own gardens, and pass along traditions in order that others may benefit. With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I thought I’d pass along a story of tradition; it’s a story that begins in a garden and is about the sharing of knowledge. It’s the Legend of the Three Sisters.

In 1621, a three-day feast was held by the pilgrims to celebrate a bountiful harvest, and to give thanks to the Native Americans who shared their knowledge and taught the pilgrims how and what to plant in this new land. Along with the pilgrims and Native Americans, the Three Sisters were in attendance at this celebratory feast, and without them there would have been no party.

The Three Sisters of Life are corn, beans, and squash, and they were a staple of the Native Americans’ diet. Legends say these sisters are inseparable; one only thrives with the others near. They must be planted together; they must be eaten together. Planting corn, beans, and squash in the same mound was a tradition practiced by many Native American farming societies and dates back to ancient Mesoamerica.

The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Ceremonies and festivals were held in honor of the Three Sisters; planting and harvest times were especially important. Rituals and knowledge were passed down from one generation to the next, preserving the tradition for centuries – knowledge such as what the Native Americans told the settlers: "when the oak leaves grow to the size of a squirrel’s ear – then it’s time to plant."

Planting these vegetables together benefits both the plants and people. The corn stalks provide a pole for the beans to climb. The beans help stabilize the corn from wind, and beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the quality of the soil. Squash vines act as mulch, shading and smothering weeds, and help keep the soil cool and moist. All three were turned back into the soil to add organic matter, improving its fertility and structure. The three eaten together supply nearly all nutritional requirements a body needs.

Had the Native Americans not given their gardening knowledge, and the gift of the Three Sisters of Life, the pilgrims may not have survived. It’s quite possible there would have been no first Thanksgiving. Today, Thanksgiving is a holiday rich in traditions; it’s a time of sharing, and being thankful for the bounty we enjoy – not only the bounty spread on the table, but the bounty of family and friends.

I’d like to wish everyone in the GRIT family – my fellow bloggers and readers, and the wonderful GRIT staff – a Happy Thanksgiving.

cindy murphy
11/26/2008 5:19:20 PM

Hey, Lori. I'm taking a break from preparations too; my pear bread, (made with apples because somebody ate the pears!), is in the oven now. Twenty-eight people! Wow, that's quite the bunch! I especially like that parts about grazing all day, and pumpkin pie smothered in whipped cream. Our gathering this year is quite a bit smaller than yours - it's just the four of us. Work schedules did not allow enough time to make our annual 9 hour round-trip drive to my family's on the other side of the state. We'll miss that, but will get together over the Christmas holiday. Which is not to say we won't be grazing and feasting all day tomorrow. It seems there's enough food in the fridge to feed a small army. Have fun - when it's all said and done; when the last guest has left, and the last pot is washed and back in the cupboard, sit back and relax with that last piece of pumpkin pie you've saved just for yourself. Smothered in whipped cream, of course.


lori
11/26/2008 11:31:24 AM

Cindy, I'm sitting here in my computer chair taking a much needed break from Thanksgiving preparations, so how appropriate to read this blog entry at this time! Tomorrow is a very big day in this house, just as I'm sure it is at others. We host Thanksgiving at our place every year since we moved into this new home, about 8 years ago. With immediate and extended family, we number around 28 people! That is A LOT of preparation of food, cleaning, setting up tables...but I wouldn't have it any other way! It is a tradition now, and everyone looks forward to it. It will be a whole day of talking, laughing, and of coarse the best part..EATING!!! I do things buffet style because it just works the best, and everyone can keep coming back and graze at the goodies all day! So, I must take myself back to the kitchen now. The ham is almost done, and smells wonderful! I still have a turkey to roast, and some desserts to make! May your turkeys and hams be roasted to perfection, and your pumpkin pies smothered in whipped cream!!! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!!