Three-Sisters for a Holiday Feast

The First Sister–Big beautiful squashes for this project include Tohono O’odham Ha:l, a super-hard-shelled winter squash–also known as O’odham Pumpkin. Any winter squash like acorn or butternut will work great for stuffing. Heirloom winter squashes can be found in Hispanic markets and grown at San Xavier Coop Farm. A really hard shell makes a perfect “bowl” for cooking this fantastic compote comprising the Three-Sisters–corn, beans and yes squash!

Let’s invite the Three Sisters to a holiday table!

So who are they? Tia Marta here to share a delicious idea to bring the traditional Indigenous triumvirate of squash (or pumpkin), beans and corn–the Three Sisters–together in a 1-dish vegetarian delight. A stuffed Three-Sisters compote is fun for the whole family to participate in making. It takes some pre-planning but the process is almost as enjoyable as the finished combo–Stuffed O’odham Pumpkin!

Here’s the Second Sister! Since beans take the longest to cook, I get my heirloom beans soaking at least 2 days before using them fully cooked in the squash “stuffing”. I suggest Bolitas, tepary, Colorado River beans, or FourCornersGold–all available at After a day of soaking, drain, add water and simmer until totally soft and done.

A Tohono O’odham Pumpkin is accompanied by suggested cutting tools. No joke–hard-shelled squashes may take a major whack or sawing to open. It’s adult work. You’ll want to cut the shell carefully, outside on a stable surface. Locate cut near narrow neck of squash to allow access to the central cavity.

Kids may enjoy this part –it is really messy and slimy! Scoop out the plump seeds and slippery fiber and pulp from the insides of your pumpkin. Save the seeds for growing next year, or for almost-instant gratification as roasted and salted snacks.

The Third Sister is corn (maize); you can use fresh off the cob or canned (which is easier). For a binder I actually add a Fourth Sister, the wonderful Incan grain quinoa, and I cook it ahead.

For the Three-Sisters Stuffing Mix:  In a big mixing bowl, mix 6-8 cups cooked & drained beans, 1-2 cans sweet corn, plus 2-3 cups cooked grain.  Add sea salt to taste. Optional-add ½ cup chopped I’itoi’s Onions or other onions to taste.  For an additional zip, add 4-8 crushed chiltepin peppers.  Mix thoroughly. Adjust these quantities for the size squash(es) you have.

Stuffing the “bowl”:  Into the cleaned-out squash “bowl” put alternating spoonfuls of the bean mix without mashing it down until the “bowl” is full.  If your conventional oven or solar oven allows space, place the squash “lid” back onto the top of your stuffed “bowl” for baking.  My solar oven is small I had to place a black pan-lid on top of the “bowl”.

Bake at about 300-350F for a few (2-3) hours until the squash “bowl” appears to be partially slumping, the stuffing is bubbling and it smells done.  Solar cooking may take longer as you follow the sun.

Serve piping hot right out of the squash “bowl” adding scoops of the cooked squash from the inner side to blend with the stuffing. Left-overs can be frozen and reheated later as a casserole.

Enjoy this tasty combo from traditional desert gardens, their great nutrition and complete protein! Happy healthy holidays from Tia Marta and the Three Savor Sisters!

Tia Marta’s artwork…

….including images of heirloom squash and many other Indigenous foods, is available at and as watercolor notecards possibly at Tucson’s Mission Garden in the near future…

2 thoughts on “Three-Sisters for a Holiday Feast

  1. Three sisters were a fad here for a brief while, when Renee’s garden seed marketed a packet containing three packets of seed for each. I thought it odd since I would prefer to select particular varieties, but I suppose that those that Renee selected were traditional types. Renee Shepherd happens to be our neighbor. I remember two of the three sisters in my own garden when I was a little kid, but the third grew nearby. Beans were planted with corn supposedly to hold the corn up during windy weather. I sort of doubt the effectiveness of that, since bean foliage adds only more wind resistance. It was a tradition nonetheless, and I would do it again, perhaps with squash on the ground below, in a small space.


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