Tasty and Nutritious Leatherbritches Beans
Electricity didn’t reach most parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains until the 1930’s. No electricity meant that there were no modern conveniences for food storage, such as refrigerators and freezers. So until a couple of generations ago, food was preserved the old-fashioned way: by drying and canning.
Drying fruits and vegetables didn’t require canning jars, and drying was a lot less work than canning. Green beans (“string beans”) were often dried by sewing them together and hanging them up to dry. The end product was then called “leatherbritches”. They were popular enough to become the subject of an old-timey fiddle-banjo tune of the same name (played in the video above).
The dried beans maintained their nutritional value and flavor and were quite tasty when cooked. Here’s a recipe for old-fashioned leatherbritches.
Making leatherbritches beans:
Wash and drain a batch of “snappy” green beans, cut off the stems and strings. With a darning needle and heavy thread (kite string works nicely) stick the needle through the middle/side of the beans (not down the center), wrap the string around the bean once and tie a quick knot in the string to keep the bean from coming off or sliding down the string. Continue to string all the beans (I wonder if this is how they came to be known as “string beans”?) Space the beans about ¼” apart to allow room for air circulation.
Hang the strings in a clean, dry, well ventilated place. As they dry, they will turn greenish-gray and shrivel.
To cook them the following winter, cover them with water and soak overnight to re-constitute. Drain the soaking water and put the beans in new water to boil. Parboil on medium-low heat for half an hour. Drain them again. Then cook them slowly in a pot with a little water and a ham hock or salt pork. Cook until tender. Serve with corn bread.