Friends Drift Inn Food Preservation
Heirloom Beans – Putting Them By
Leather Britches…It’s a Hillbilly Thing
“I guess you girls know what leather britches are?” Chef Sean Brock asked us this summer. We shared a good laugh over that; a thirty something attractive young man asking a group of fifty something women about leather britches.
My great grandma hung her leather britches on the back sleeping porch. Me, I am not shy. My leather britches are hanging on the front porch. Somehow, the barn seems homier. It was just that “little decorator touch” we needed. LOL
Leather britches, that is to say dried beans left in the hull, are a traditional Appalachian staple. If you are afraid of the pressure canner, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, if you are just one of those crazy people who like to embrace traditional Foodways….leather britches are for you.
Try some Leather Britches on for Size
Up and down the creek, folks have different notions on just how to make leather britches. I cannot tell you what is “right” or what is “authentic” …it just starts too many arguments. Remember the Hatfields and the McCoys? Well, I’ve got both for neighbors! LOL
Here’s how Charlie and I strung up our Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans for Leather Britches.
1. Wash the beans and let dry.
2. We “strung” the beans removing the tough midrib fibers. You break off one end pull the “string” to the other end, break it and string the backside.
3. Some folks break the beans at this point. We left them whole for two reasons. One, we had a ton to work through and a busy work and social schedule. Two, we are hanging these outside and figure the less broken areas available to bugs, the better. Once dry, these beans can be broken easily and quickly for cooking.
4.Kite string is the norm for stringing up leather britches. I am fresh out of kite string, but we had some fishing line and heavy nylon thread. Use a “yarn darner” needle, and about two arm lengths of string for each group of leather britches. Start by piercing the first bean, and tying off securely.
5. Start running needle through flat sides of beans at the midpoint. String about two feet of beans “stacked.”
6. Hang in a dry place. Traditionally, leather britches are hung on porches or in the rafters of the attic.
What bean varieties work best for Leather Britches?
Sometimes called “Shucky Beans” Charlie and I have only had the Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans and Roy Meade’s Cutshort (a bean unique to our little community) as Leather Britches. If I would have had the presence of mind, I would have preserved some Old Dutch runners this way…I bet they would be awesome.
Sean Brock has a fascination with White Hastings Beans…..and if you ask around some folks like White Half Runners. (I am not a White Half Runner fan) I have been told, wax beans like Cherokee Wax or Dragon Tongue make excellent “Leather Britches.” I have no experience with these as dried beans, but maybe you have. I would love to hear about it!
Later this fall, I’ll show you how we cook up leather britches for a fine Appalachian inspired meal.