Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Three Sisters Stew

Serves 8.

  • 1 pound dark red kidney beans, rinsed and sorted
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground or whole cumin seed
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 slice bacon, chopped
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cups diced pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 3 cups corn
  • 1 cup fresh green beans, cut to 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons sorghum syrup


  1. Place beans in a large pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse. Return beans to pot with crushed pepper, salt and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until tender, adding more water, if needed. Set aside.
  3. In a skillet, cook cumin an doil on low heat for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
  4. Add the bacon, bell pepper, onion and garlic. Saute for 8 minutes until tender.
  5. Add to the beans.
  6. Add pumpkin or squash to a skillet and saute for five minutes.
  7. Add corn and green beans.
  8. Saute for 6-8 minutes until tender.
  9. Add the cooked bean mixture and sorghum.
  10. Bring to a simmer and cook until heated through.

Source: Okmulgee Farmers Market

According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet.

Corn, beans and squash were among the first important crops domesticated by ancient Mesoamerican societies. Corn was the primary crop, providing more calories or energy per acre than any other.

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.

Corn, beans and squash also complement each other nutritionally. 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.

Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education

Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

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