I’d like to introduce you to the three most important women in Mexican cooking – affectionately known throughout the country as The Three Sisters. They are very family-oriented and work together throughout their lives. They like to be near to one another and have always been so, sharing each day together.
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10 Mar 2014 - 3:36 PM  UPDATED 14 Mar 2014 - 10:46 AM

One of the sisters is tall and willowy, always climbing higher and higher. The second is steadfast, stoically allowing her sisters to use her as a rock, and a tethering foundation for their lives. The third shades her sisters from the harsh Mexican sun, keeping them safe and cool.

Mexicans and Native Americans alike have relied on these sisters for centuries.

Would you believe I’m talking about the three most important crops in native American cooking? Maize (corn), squash and beans.

My first lesson in Mexican cooking explained the importance of the Three Sisters and what is commonly known as “companion farming” – planting the three symbiotic plants in close proximity, allowing their growth patterns to complement and aid each other.

Firstly, the oldest sister, maize (corn), is planted in a mound of soil surrounded with natural fertilisers. The tall, sturdy corn stalks will eventually provide a climbing structure for ambitious middle sister, beans. When the maize reaches about 15cm tall, the farmer plants alternating seeds of climbing beans and squash around the stalks. The third sister, squash, grows out around the base of the plants and shelters them from the sun, while the leaves that periodically fall from the vines decompose into the surrounding soil, keeping it moist and fertilised while the prickly hairs on the squash vines also ward off pests.

Most importantly, combining the Three Sisters offers a balanced diet, which is why it is so prevalent in both Mexican cooking and mythology.

 

Mexic-OH! fact Corn was first domesticated in Mexico around 6000 years ago, and the farming of corn was mostly done by women.

Mexican Fiesta with Peter Kuruvita airs Thursdays 7.30pm on SBS ONE.