Three Sisters Soup: A Recipe for Comfort and Connection
10/24/2023 · Diversity and Inclusion
In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we asked some of our Native American employees to share with us about a dish or recipe that is significant to their culture or family. One response that came up repeatedly was Three Sisters Soup, a hearty mix that includes three of the main indigenous crops of North America: corn, squash, and beans. We reached out to our friends at Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, New York, to learn more about this special dish.
“The Three Sisters are the corn, beans, and squash in the soup,” said Friends of Ganondagan Program Director Jeanette Jemison (Mohawk). “Many different tribes across the U.S. have their own version, which contain corn, beans, and squash, but it’s their variety of corn, their variety of beans, and their variety of squashes. They are different in each region.”
The Three Sisters are often planted together in a technique known as companion planting, offering unique advantages to each other as they grow. The corn stalks provide a pole for the beans to climb, and in return the bean’s vines create stability for the corn; the squash leaves keep the soil cool, moist, and free of weeds, and the beans fertilize the soil with nitrogen, benefiting all three crops. Instead of competing with each other, the crops complement one another and when eaten together, create a balanced meal.
Additionally, the legend of the Three Sisters, a story from Native American mythology, is passed down through generations to share about the importance of these crops, and to spread the message that we are stronger together than apart.
“In the Native American heritage, a lot of our stories are based around nature and animals taking on human characteristics,” said Wegmans IT Support Supervisor Mary Richberg (Mohawk). “For the Three Sisters, the story flows through the perspective of corn, beans, and squash from their crop forms and human characteristics showing where one takes from another, the other replenishes. It shows the harmony between people, and the connection of family.”
Soup has always been important in Native American culture, not only as a form of nourishment, but as a way to bring people together.
“Soups were always something that sustained us,” said Jeanette. “It could be left on the fire pit for a long time, and as people came in, they could come get soup. Throughout the day, they would add to it, whether it was different kinds of vegetables, or adding more water, to extend the soup for the rest of the community or family members.”
Today, Three Sisters Soup is often served at tribal pow-wows and other gatherings, but it is also enjoyed throughout the year. Mary’s family recipe has never been formally written down, so she learned to make it by cooking alongside her mom. She views making the soup together as a great opportunity to connect and learn about her family’s history.
“When I’m making it with my mom, stories come up. I learn about what she and my family went through,” said Mary. “When we’re cooking, we’re in the mindset of honoring everyone before us, and those conversations just come naturally.”
Jeanette enjoys gathering her family around the table to take a break from the bustle of everyday life, and to share some soup, fry bread, and memories.
“It’s a time to tell stories around the soup,” said Jeanette. “If I’m having fry bread with it, or if I have a soup that my mother used to make, then it brings up those memories about our parents or grandparents and those gatherings. It’s just a good time.”
Ganondagan graciously shared their recipe for Three Sisters Soup with our recipe team. Below is a modified version using ingredients you can find at any Wegmans store:
Active Time: 20 min
Total Time: 25 min
- 1 Tbsp Wegmans Pure Olive Oil
- 1 cup peeled, 1/4-inch diced yellow onion
- 1/2 lb Wegmans Organic Green Beans, cut in 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
- 1 ear corn, shucked, kernels cut from cob (about 1 cup)
- 1 can (15.5 oz) white hominy (cooked hulled white corn), drained, rinsed
- 2 tsp Wegmans Organic Thyme, chopped
- 1 tsp Wegmans Rosemary Sage Seasoning Shak’r
- 1/4 lb Wegmans Organic Yellow Squash, trimmed, 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 lb Wegmans Organic Zucchini (green squash), trimmed, 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 2 containers (24 oz each) Wegmans Organic Chicken Bone Broth (Meat Dept)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- Heat oil in large stockpot on MED. Add onions and beans; cook, stirring, about 5 min until onions are soft, not browned.
- Add corn, hominy, thyme, and rosemary sage seasoning. Cook, stirring, 2-3 min.
- Add yellow squash, zucchini, and broth; bring to a simmer. Simmer 8-10 min, stirring occasionally. Season with salt.