The Three Sisters of Summer

This post was originally posted on John's previous blog site on on August 19th, 2013.



Late summer into the early fall is the season of the Three Sisters, a Native American method of planting and growing corn, beans, and squash together. Native legend has it that the three sisters – corn, beans and squash – are inseparable and can only grow together. If you look at the science behind this theory they are quite right. Corn takes a lot of nitrogen from the soil, but the beans put it right back in, while planting the squash (both hard and soft varieties) in between the mounds of the first two sisters, helps seal in moisture and keep out weeds.

I first leaned about the Three Sisters technique from permaculturist, Bonnie North, former publisher of Baltimore Eats Magazine. Bonnie wanted to try and see how much, and how many, vegetables she could grow on a small (less than 50-square feet) Baltimore row house side yard. She planted about 12 stalks of corn in separate, built-up mounds of soil, surrounded by several varieties of beans, with pumpkin – which is a prolific squash – nestled between the corn mounds. The results from Bonnie’s effort produced a veritable urban Garden of Eden. Healthy rows of corn, with countless vines of beans running up the stalks, and pumpkins that obviously enjoy west Baltimore soil, as they took over the garden with vines tumbling down the front hill of the house and ending up in a bus stop. This type of compact growing, gilding – if you will – is good for the soil – nutritionally beneficial, and oh so tasty. And judging from Bonnie’s experiment – it works. I love all three of these locally grown vegetables either on their own – or paired with one another – to create soups, stews, or a regional favorite – succotash. Using some of the Chesapeake’s late summer ingredients I’ve come up with a Rockfish, Crab and Succotash Chowder which teams a few of our region’s culinary stars.

Three Sisters Rockfish, Crab and Succotash Chowder

Sweet corn, squash, and tender lima beans lima beans are the heart and soul of this classic summertime Chesapeake seafood stew. The recipe calls for two cups of cream or half and half, but the stew can be slimed down by reducing the cream and increasing the stock in an equal proportion. Serves 8 to 12 Stock One 4 to 6 pound rockfish, cleaned and filleted, bones and head reserved 2 carrots, peeled and chopped 1 onion, sliced 1 bunch washed parsley with stems 2 teaspoons dried whole thyme leaves 1 bay leaf Chowder 6 ears sweet corn 4 tablespoons butter or olive oil 1 large onion, finely diced 3 large potatoes, cut into a 1/2 -inch dice ½ cup flour 2 cups heavy cream or half and half 1 pound lump crabmeat (fresh or pasteurized), picked over for shells 1 cup lima beans – fresh or frozen 2 cups medium diced yellow or green squash Salt and ground black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons minced chives or parsley To make the stock, place the fish heads and bones in an 8-quart stockpot and add about 12 cups cold water, or enough to cover. Reserve the fish fillets for later use.

Add the carrots, onion, parsley stems, and thyme. Bring just to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered. Skim the foam from the top occasionally. Husk the corn and cut the kernels off the ears with a sharp knife, collecting the kernels and any “corn milk” in a bowl. Put the kernels and corn milk aside. Add the corncobs to the simmering stock. Strain the stock through a fine strainer.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter or olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue sautéing for 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in about 8 cups of the strained stock and bring almost to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow cook for about 45 minutes. Add the cream or half-and-half and bring almost to a boil. Reduce to medium heat.

Cut the rockfish fillets into 1-inch cubes. Add the rockfish cubes along with the crabmeat, lima beans, diced squash, and reserved corn kernels and corn milk. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in soup or chowder bowls and garnish with the minced chives or parsley. Enjoy! - John

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