Saturday, January 8, 2011

Leather Britches Beans

I finally spent a half hour looking into leather britches beans, and I found out a lot in just that little bit of time.

For people who don't already know, leather britches is really a preservation/cooking method for green beans. Mature beans are threaded onto strings to dry, and later cooked, usually with some kind of pork for seasoning (I don't eat any kind of pork, but I'm working on this one step at a time). This is a very "old-timey" way of preserving beans for use in the winter.

I had heard that any kind of green bean can be used for making these, but my experience with the beans in my yard had made me think that some varieties of beans would work better than others. Basically, Burpee's Tenderpod, which is a great green bean for fresh eating, shrivels to almost non-existence in drying, and the flavor is dramatically less than great. After reading my new book "The Resilient Gardener" by Carol Deppe, who found that some squash varieties were better than others for drying, I knew I would have to do some actual work to figure this out.

The writer over at vegetablesofinterest.typepad.com confirmed that thought:
The hulls of today's beans all become very tough as the bean matures. Some gardeners will dry a commercial string bean as a substitute for 'old time' Leather Britches beans but they risk criticism from historians, Southern chefs and anyone who has tasted the real thing.


It turns out that more than one gardener recommends "greasy beans," especially the "greasy cut shorts," for this use. Steve from Western North Carolina, posting at newsgroups.derkeiler.com, said:
There are at least 3 different greasy beans grown by seed savers in Western NC. All are pole beans and strong runners. The Greasy Cut short has only 4-6 beans to the pod, so they're just strung and broken in 1/2. The long greasy (my type) has 8-11 beans per pod and then there is the big greasy. It has 8-11 beans and a very thick, fleshy pod.

I like to let the long greasy get very full before picking. The beans have a rich, nutty flavor and are wonderful for canning. The cut shorts make the best "leather britches".


At the site community.berea.edu is this comment:
"Black greasy" beans were a popular old-fashioned variety. They could be eaten fresh out of the garden or canned. When strung and dried, they were called "leather britches" or "shucky" beans.


A poster on the gardenweb forums agreed with the above comments:
Until her demise my adoptive granny, Sarah Lou Back, made leather britches every year. Her bean of choice was Greasy Grits, and there were so many strings of them hanging from her porch you couldn't see through what superficially looked like a bamboo curtain.


The writer at vegetablesofinterest.typepd.com added some other bean varieties to the leather britches list:
By general acclaim the best heirloom bean varieties to make Leather Britches include the Barnes Mountain Cornfield Bean, Pink Tip Greasy Bean, Tobacco Worm Bean and the NT Half Runner Bean.


Other writers added white half-runners to the list of good varieties for leather britches, and it sounds as though any bean described as a "shucky bean" is also a good candidate.

The writer at vegetablesofinterest included one more piece of very useful information in his post, the name and URL for a source of heirloom beans: Bill Best's Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center Inc.'s catalogue. Since this is the season for planning, I will be looking more closely at this particular catalogue.

6 comments:

  1. At 86 years old I ate many meals of leather britches when I was young. My preferred type was green or yellow pole beans that were too ripe to can were cut into sections, strung on string and hung up to dry.
    When cooked with a hunk of salt pork or home cured bacon they made a great winter time meal.

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  2. I'm stringing up white Mountain Half Runners from a friend's garden to try this out. The "greasy" beans I planted in my garden did not produce enough for even one mess of beans. I think our summer has been too hot for pollination, because there are plenty of flowers.

    Since I don't eat pork, I am hoping that smoked peppers do something similar for the flavor. (We are smoking a LOT of peppers this year.)

    Thanks for stopping by. Now I am REALLY looking forward to my first meal with leather britches!

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    1. I use smoked turkey wing, legs or neck bones in all my vegetables. Don't miss the pork at all. Just be sure to take as much of the smoked skin off as possible to keep it from tasting to bitter.

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    2. Thanks for the tip! Smoked peppers have been working pretty well as a complement to the flavor of the dried beans, but I'll try some this winter with smoked turkey or chicken. The greasy beans have been coming in fairly steadily this year, since we've had a cool summer, so I should have enough for several meals.

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  3. I have used Blue Lake beans for several years now and they do up well. Just make sure they don't get wet . Bring in if out in the sun befor the dew falls. I dry mine in full sun. In bad weather I bring them inside and run a fan on them.
    TRhis past summer we canned 84 quqrts of beans and strung up three (3) bushels.
    We had a mess today for my 77th birthday.

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  4. Dear George Cole - Happy birthday!

    ...and thanks for the tips, That's a whole lot of beans! My garden is pretty small, but I also got those Mountain Half Runner beans this summer from the little farm where my family volunteers on Saturday mornings. I have enough dried beans for one meal, I think. I haven't cooked them up yet, but I think I will this week. It turns out that the smoked peppers do give a good smokey flavor to all kinds of things, but especially to green beans, and your comment here has made me go fetch those up from the basement.

    For my garden this year, I have saved seeds from some of the "greasy beans" that the plants actually set last summer, and I am hoping to end up (someday) with a strain that can take the Georgia heat. I might add Blue Lake beans to my seed-shopping list, though, so I don't have to wait so long for leather britches from my own yard.

    Thank you for stopping by and for taking time to leave me a note!

    -Amy

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