Appalachian Dialect Appalachian Food

Cooking in Swain County – 1939

Old time leather britches green beans

I came across the interview below on the Appalachian English website (Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English). The red words throughout the interview are links, if you click on them you can visit the corresponding entry in the dictionary.

[transcripption copyrigh Michael Montgomery and Paul Reed, 2017][C = Clara Crisp; I = Interviewer Joseph Hall]

C: The wife of Zeb Crisp, Clara Crisp my name, and you want my initials too? my initials?

I: Could I get your, could I get your name?

C: Fifty-five years old.

I: Where were you born?

C: Graham County, and you want me to tell about the sewing?

I: xx.

C: Well, uh back when I was growing up the first sewing I done I was about thirteen years old C: I guess, and I sewed with my fingers and made sheets, pillow cases, and all kinds of bed clothes with my fingers, I never sewed any on a machine till I was nearly grown, I guess about seventeen years ve- teen years old, and we didn’t can any and my grandmother didn’t, she always dried her stuff up till I was nearly grown, she done her cooking mostly on the fire, never had any stove till I was little, and she could bake cakes, she was just the nicest, one of the best old-timey cooks.

I: How did she do her baking?

C: She baked in a oven, she done her baking in a oven, she baked cakes, I don’t know what number of cakes she’s baked in an oven.

I: And how many xx xx xx xx placed in the fireplace?                      

C: Yes, she, she baked them on the fire, take out her coals and put her oven down on the fire and she’d bake them and heat the oven as she went, you know, to bake her cakes, she’d bake her cornbread in, in pones, she’d take it up and bake her potatoes, and puy sometimes her family wasn’t any gone, she’d uh put her cake or bread on one side, the potatoes in the other, and that, that’s most of the way we lived in my younger days, and the way my grandmother lived, what was they you going to say?

I: You said that uh you didn’t do any canning when you were young, your mother didn’t do either?

C: No, she uh didn’t, we didn’t do any canning un-, until I was grown, nearly grown, before I saw any canning.

I: What kind of stuff would you dry?

C: Uh fruits and dry apples, and uh blackberries, they didn’t dry any other kind of berries, and, and that’s about all the dried stuff we had that I remember.

I: Did they dry beans?

C: No, well they’d dry their beans, yes, they dried leather britches beans, what a thing to call it, I suppose I’ve got some now.

I: How long do you dry the beans?

C: Well, I dry mine in the sun, my grandmother dried hers uh on a string, hung them up in the porch or around the fireplace and dried them, and she’d dry pumpkin that way, and I don’t dry any pumpkin myself but I still dry the leather britches beans, that’s what they called them then, I suppose that’s what you want?

I: Yeah.

And I don’t know of anything else now that would be any important.

I: Would you tell about how your grandmother would bake cakes?

C: Oh yes, those was pound cakes.

I: Oh, pound cakes?

C: And the way she baked her cakes now at, at Christmas time, times they hard then, they didn’t have uh, they couldn’t afford this stuff all the time, and the way they baked them at Christmas time, she’d uh, she’d take a dozen of eggs and a pound of sugar and a pound of butter, and she’d make her pound cakes and pour them in a pan with a, with a pound cake pans they called them, they had a spout run up that way and poured this dough right around this lid, and hit would raise to the top with a hole in the middle, and she’d get her a w- wild leaf, flower or something or another and decorate the top of that, usually uh holly berries, and, or else she’d stick a large piece of candy down in it, put them on the Christmas tree for her old friends, and, and they’d eat them and laugh and talk and enjoy theirselves through Christmas, and that’s about all they is to the pound cake except a little flavoring she’d use.


C: Well, they enjoyed it a lot better because they enjoyed it in a religious way, and these days we j- enjoy it to have a good time mostly, you know, that’s all of the world, and they just enjoyed theirselves, I’ve heared her tell about the, having log rollings, you know, back in her raising up, and after she started raising a family, they’d have these log rollings, they’d all go and enjoy themself.

I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. I’d love to taste that pound cake. I hope to attempt drying pumpkin like she describes this year, not sure if I’ll get it done, but I aim to try.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    July 27, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    Now as a child, we did string beans up so they would dry out. Sew em I guess you call it that. I remember doing that and I’d stick myself with a needle. Of course we canned everything. We did that for beans next yr.

  • Reply
    July 27, 2021 at 10:31 am

    This shows how important it is to interview and obtain the stories from the older generations. Time passes so fast that I cannot imagine how much the world might change 50+ years from now. It was so different when I was a child and watched many meals cooked on a woodstove. I do not know what the difference is, but I have never tasted cornbread as good as the crispy cornbread baked without temperature control in an old cookstove. No air conditioning made sandwiches right popular in many households. They did make it seem easy and in some ways it was. There was never the clutter we contend with these days, and meals were kept simple.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      July 27, 2021 at 11:32 am

      ♪ ♫ I smell your bread a burnin,
      better turn your damper down.
      If you ain’t got no damper,
      just turn your bread around! ♫♪

  • Reply
    Donald Wells
    July 27, 2021 at 9:46 am

    Would have liked to been in on one of those Log Rollings, lot of hard work no doubt, but helping family, friends, or a neighbor would have been rewarding. Then what followed, a meal prepared the old-timey way,a dish of the pot pie, maybe some cornbread and beans, and for sure a big piece of pound cake. That would make for some good memories.

  • Reply
    July 27, 2021 at 9:02 am

    During these modern times, they tell us it’s not safe to can green beans without a pressure cooker. I’d like to ask the FDA how the folks kept from getting sick or dying from eating canned green beans before the pressure cooker came along. Mom canned her green beans outside in a washtub with a fire built under it and none of us ever got botulism. Mom dried white half runner beans and cushaws on a string when she ran short on jars or lids. It was such a treat to eat the sweetened cushaw the way she fixed them. The way I remember them was similar to the way dried papaya looks in the store bought bags. I tried to dry some last year and they didn’t look like the ones I remember. I must have let them dry too long. I’m anxious to see how your dried pumpkin turns out.

    • Reply
      July 27, 2021 at 1:23 pm

      Shirl I have often wondered how the food from Sunday dinner (midway meal) didn’t make us sick . After eating, a white table cloth would be spread over the table and food until we ate again before going to Sunday night church service. This is just one thing along with so many other things we did that was suppose to be bad for us according to the exspurts. Another thing us children would do when a cake was bake was to lick the raw cake batter bowl. Grandmother would put at least 12 eggs in every cake she cooked. These old homes didn’t even have fans much less air conditioning.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    July 27, 2021 at 8:48 am

    Zeb and Clara Crisp lived on Hazel Creek just above the mouth of Bone Valley Creek. Their house was on the other side of the road, less than 100 yards from the Bone Valley Church.

    Zeb, Clara, and five of their children are buried in the Bryson City Cemetery. Zeb drowned after falling from the railroad trestle below town. He was apparently attempting to cross the river on the trestle when a train came by.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    July 27, 2021 at 8:30 am

    I enjoyed reading of Mrs.C’s way of life and especially the pound cakes. I too would like to see drying pumpkins and other fruits. I know my friends from Star, SC dried fruits etc in the attic of their home on screens. When I was a child, mommy and Bobby dried onions and potatoes on tarps in the sun before storing them in the cellar for winter. I get excited talking about gardens and home cooking!!!! Lol I have finally started to get tomatoes ( Amish paste and yellow pear they’re delicious, sweet and the hide isn’t tough like leather like most hybrid junk tomatoes. I’m having a great time here eating aplenty!!!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 27, 2021 at 8:00 am

    I expect cooking in a fireplace was a total art of knowing heat levels and timing. I saw a living history demonstration about it and there was various heats for different purposes; warming, cooking, baking, etc. For a “big” dinner there could be four or five things going on in beds of coals raked out on the hearth plus maybe meats roasting on a spit or being cooked in a pot hung on a crane. To us now it seems near impossible but to those who did it as a common thing it would have been unremarkable.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 27, 2021 at 7:23 am

    Guess I’ve never thought about country life before canning jars! I guess the only things they preserved were things that could be dried. I have trouble wrapping my head around preserving food without canning jarsand a freezer.
    I’ve always really liked leather britches, dried beans. My grand mother made then and I have dried some as well. My attempts at leather britches didn’t always work out, I think it’s got something to do with the varities of green available these days. They new varities of beans do not dry as well as the old ones did for some reason.
    I’ll be pondering about this post all day!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      July 27, 2021 at 9:54 am

      Don’t forget pickling! That was a big part of preserving food in those times.

    Leave a Reply