Monday, November 24, 2014

Meatless Monday: Three Amazing Sisters

Many of us will feast on dishes of corn, beans, and squash this Thursday, just as  the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag did on what we consider the “First Thanksgiving.” 

The Three Sisters are depicted
on the Native American dollar.
However, the corn the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate during that three-day celebration in 1621 was likely a bright-colored variety, and the squash and beans would also be unfamiliar to most of us. This link lists a number of heirloom varieties linked to Native American agriculture.

The Native Americans had been growing squash in combination with beans and corn for centuries before the Europeans arrived. They called the crops “The Three Sisters” and considered them a gift from the Gods. You can read the Mohawk version of the legend here

Squash is the oldest of the three crops. Fragments of domesticated varieties of Cucurbita pepo (the species to which the acorn squash and pumpkins belong) discovered in a Mexican cave in 1996 have been dated to be some 10,000 years old

Also around 10,000 years ago, farmers in what is now Mexico began selecting and planting grains from a wild grass called teosinte. Each year they saved seeds from the plants with the most desirable properties, and, over time, what we know as corn evolved. The identity of corn’s ancestor was a mystery until scientists in the field of genetic archaeology discovered that the DNA of teosinte and maize are very much alike. Corn was introduced to North American tribes via trade networks sometime around 1000 A.D.

Beans were first domesticated in what is now Mexico between 4200 and 3400 BC and arrived in the American Southwest through trade around 1500 BC. Over time, through seed selection, bush varieties requiring less water were developed.

Grown together as “companion crops,” beans, corn, and squash enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The corn serves as a pole or support for the beans. The intertwining squash provides shade at the base, helping to retain moisture in the soil and to keep down weeds, and the prickly hairs of its vine serve to deter pests. Beans help to replenish the nitrogen the corn removes from the soil with nitrogen they fix from the air. 

There are nutritional benefits to combining the crops as well. Corn is missing two amino acids, lysine and tryptophan, but has the one amino acid, methionine, that  beans lack. Thus, beans and corn, when eaten together, in a dish such as succotash, provide protein of a high nutritional value

Three Sisters Garden in New Haven, CT, 2011
Planting the Three Sisters is a tradition that continues to this day, as in this urban garden in New Haven, Connecticut. A successful Three Sisters garden requires certain conditions and careful planning. Cornell University has provided a detailed guide for gardeners and educators who want to recreate this method of farming. 

This Thursday let’s remember those who inhabited our country before the Europeans arrived and give special thanks for the Three Sisters garden.

Happy Meatless Monday. 

Good health to you, and to the planet.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Shorts: 11.15.14 America Recycles Day


Today, Saturday, November 15, is the 17th annual America Recycles Day.

For most of us weekly curbside pickup makes it easy to recycle paper, bottles and cans, and plastics. But there is so much more we can do, including:
  • eCycling. Take your old computers or other electronics to a local recycling center. This helps keep lead, cadmium, and other substances out of the landfill. Find eCycling centers near you. Some states, including Connecticut, have laws mandating eCyling. Best Buy is one location where homeowners can drop off a few unwanted items on each visit to the store. Select your state on the Best Buy site and you will see what items Best Buys in your area will accept. For more information specific to the greater New Haven area, check out this past post for more ideas. 
  • Cleaning out the basement. In New Haven, HazWaste Central is closed until spring, but that does not mean recycling has to come to an end. If you find chemicals, solvents, pesticides, alkaline batteries, or items containing mercury, set them aside, boxed, labelled, and ready for the first collection day in April.
There are quite a few items you can recycle in any season. You just have to know where to take them.
  • In CT, you can now recycle unwanted paint in a number of paint stores. There are a few rules to follow. Drop-off is free and is funded by a surcharge on every new paint purchase. Check here to see if you can recycle paint in your state. 
  • IKEA will accept CFL bulbs, rechargeable batteries, and plastic bags, as well as paper, plastic bottles, and cardboard.
  • If you live in an area where plastic shopping bags are still allowed, look for collection containers for used bags at the grocery store entrance.
  • Fluorescent light tubes can be returned to Home Depot stores.
  • Recycle your eyeglasses. Lions Club International accepts prescription and reading glasses, sunglasses and plastic and metal frames. Children's glasses are especially needed. Most of the recycled glasses are distributed to people in need in developing countries where they will have the greatest impact.  
And, of course, there is always something I know I need to do:
  • Thin out the closets. Never throw an article of clothing, no matter what the condition, into the trash. Goodwill will take it all, sort through it, and make sure your donation is put to its best use. Goodwill accepts many other household goods as well. Donating Dos and Don’ts are posted here. Donating your unwanted items to Goodwill helps provide employment opportunities in your community. Donations can also help you at tax time. Here is a valuation guide covering a wide range of donations. 
CT residents have a great resource in the “What do I do with…?” section of the CTDEEP site, covering items from “A” (Air Conditioners) to “Y” (Yoga Mats). 

I could go on and on, but this should get you going...

Happy recycling. 

Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall  being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Meatless Monday: Baked Acorn Squash, So Easy, So Versatile

Welcome to my third post with the theme of easy recipes using native ingredients. [See easy cornbread from October 20 and cranberry sauce from November 3.]

This week’s featured ingredient is the winter squash, a thick-skinned fruit in the genus Cucurbita. Familiar species include the Butternut (Cucurbita moschata) and the Acorn (Cucurbita pepo, var. turbinata); pumpkins are varieties of Cucurbita pepo as well.

Most Thanksgiving feasts feature at least one winter squash dish — mashed, roasted, baked, topped with marshmallows, or baked into a pie. For many vegetarians, a squash baked and stuffed with nuts, seeds, mushrooms, or quinoa often serves as the main course.    

The Native Americans had been growing squash in combination with beans and corn for centuries before the Europeans arrived. They called the crops “The Three Sisters” and considered them a gift from the Gods. [More on this soon.] However, the squash they grew is not the squash we know today. Check this link for descriptions of some of the heirloom varieties. 

Acorn squash is very easy to prepare. 

You will need:
  • An oven
  • An Acorn squash [Butternut works, too.]
  • A sharp knife
  • A baking pan
  • Oil
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar or maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper

Here is the recipe: 
  • Preheat the oven to 350°
  • Wash the squash well.
  • Cut it in half lengthwise.
  • Scrape out the seeds.
  • Oil the edges.
  • Place the halves upside down in the baking pan.
  • Roast for 30 minutes.
  • Turn right side up.
  • Add a pat of butter, salt and pepper, and sweetener to taste.
  • Smoosh in a bit with a fork.
  • Return to the oven (right side up) for 20 minutes.
There you have it, the perfect addition to any T-Day feast or cold-weather dinner.

For more recipes, check out Martha Stewart’s site where you will find 51 recipes and 17 videos for ways to prepare Acorn squash! 

If you are up for a challenge, you might want to check out my 2012 adventures with a Hubbard squash (Cucurbita maxima) and how I prepared it for Thanksgiving dinner.

Watch your fingers!

Happy Meatless Monday. Good health to you, and to the planet.


On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”