This Iroquois Autumn Soup Holds Many Secrets

By Nick Polizzi

Up here in the northern hemisphere, we’re entering a beautiful time of year when the weather remains warm even as the colder months approach. In the States, we call it “Indian Summer”, but this is experienced by many countries across Europe and Asia as well. In Germany, Austria, Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland this warm period of autumn is called “Old Women’s Summer”.

This is the time of the harvest, and with the bounty of fresh produce available from local farms, I’ve been making a lot of hearty soups and stews lately!

The other day, I came across a delicious new soup recipe from The Iroquois White Corn Project in upstate New York that delights the taste buds and is also laden with cultural and spiritual significance.

Excited to share it with you below!

The Iroquois people have lived in the northern areas around Ontario, Canada and upstate New York for well over 4,000 years. “Iroquois” actually refers to a language rather than a particular tribe, and prior to European colonization, the Iroquois consisted of at least five tribes.

The soup below is called “Three Sisters Harvest Vegetable Soup”, a name that holds much meaning. In many Native American cultures, the “three sisters” refer to corn, squash, and beans – three key crops that have been planted alongside one another for over 5,000 years in a technique called companion planting.

The “three sisters” support one another as they grow. The corn (or maize) provides a pole-like structure for the beans to crawl up, while the beans fertilize the soil beneath with nitrogen (a compound that the other two plants need in order to live). The third sister, squash, grows in clusters around the group and blots out most of the sunlight, preventing weeds from moving in on the dance.

Harmony in nature.

I hope you enjoy this vegetable soup and also reflect on the deeper lessons that the three sisters hold for us all.

Three Sisters Harvest Vegetable Soup (from The Iroquois White Corn Project)

Ingredients

• 2 cups hulled white corn, cooked/prepared ahead
• 15 oz. cooked kidney or pinto beans (can use canned or fresh)
• 32 oz. of vegetable broth
• 30 oz. diced tomatoes (can use canned or fresh)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 cup onion, chopped
• 2 celery stalks, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon basil
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 2 cups winter squash, peeled and cubed
• ½ cup carrots, diced
• 1 cup parsnips, cubed,
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Prepare ahead hulled corn. See directions here.

2. Warm the oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Add onions, celery, and garlic. Saute 10 minutes on low heat.

3. Add basil and cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Add squash, carrots, parsnips, and tomatoes. Simmer until tender. Add beans and corn, simmer for another 10 minutes. Add vegetable broth and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes.

A Blessing

When you sit down to enjoy this traditional soup, perhaps you’d like to share this native blessing from the Iroquois tradition around the table, to help remember that the Earth nourishes and feeds both our bodies and spirits.

We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters,
the beans and squashes, which give us life.
 
We return thanks to the bushes and trees,
which provide us with fruit.
 
We return thanks to the Great Spirit,
in who is embodied all goodness,
and who directs all things for the good of his children.

Wishing you a bountiful harvest (in whatever shape that may take) this month!

Stay curious,

Nick Polizzi

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5 Responses

  1. I love the story of the 3 Sisters Soup and its blessings st the table. Thanks for this. You made my day/life/soul better.

  2. re: Three sisters harvest vegetable soup

    In the directions section, the first step says: 1. Prepare ahead hulled corn. See directions here. But there is no link attached to it.

    Can you give me the directions for that step please?

  3. Hey I’m Iroquois and I just wanted to let you know that just about everything you said about the Iroquois is not true.

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