We are beginning to plant corn in the Northeast, where the last frost generally occurs in the second week of May.
As a diverse people, every nation has its own legends and lore about corn/maise.
Our Abenaki origin story tells of “One Who Lives Alone” who was awakened one night by a beautiful young woman with long, long light hair. She promised to stay with “One Who Lives Alone” if he would do what she asked him to do. First, he was to set a field of dry grass on fire. When it cooled down a bit, he was to drag her by the hair over the field. He didn’t like this idea much, but she told him a special grass would grow and bear edible seeds and he would be able to see her hair between the grasses. This must be true because each ear of corn does have silken light hair. “One Who Lives Alone” was never alone again.
Once, the planting of corn was viewed as an agricultural achievement by the Europeans and others. The corn seed was planted in the middle of a mound of earth along with herring or other fish for fertilizer. Then, the seeds of beans and squash were planted around the corn seed. The genius plan was for beans to grow up the corn stalks and for squash to cover the ground sideways to hold down the weeds and keep moisture in the ground. Not only do the foods grow together and complement each other when cooked, the combination provides fundamental nutrients for sustaining good health. This combination is known as “The Three Sisters,” though most Native languages have their own name for the medley, such as okindgier in Wompanoag, or diohe’ko in Seneca.
Many recipes unite these three vegetables, these “three sisters.” Some are for succotash, many for soups, one-dish casseroles, even quiche. While quiche is not an Indian concept, these ingredients mingle in the preparation so well. Experiment with herbs like sage, parsley or cilantro, or additions like minced chive, scallions or crumbled bacon. To “kick it up a notch,” add some chopped jalapeno. It’s a good dish to share and easy to personalize.
Three Sisters Quiche
1 pie crust, homemade or purchased
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup corn kernels (from two ears)
½ cup green beans, cut in ½-inch pieces
½ cup green summer squash, cubed
½ cup each, Monterey jack , Swiss or cheddar
Optional: minced chive, parsley, cilantro, crumbled bacon
Preheat oven to 425
Put some coarse salt on squash cubes and let stand for 10 minutes to remove water from them. Drain on paper towel, set aside. Combine eggs, cream, salt, pepper, onion, corn, beans and squash. Now add cheese, and stir to blend. Sprinkle any herbs in mixture at this time.
Fill pie shell and bake for 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 350 degrees, continue baking for 30 minutes or until custard is set in the center. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for over 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.