Appalachia Appalachian Food Preserving/Canning

Ever Eat Leather Britches?

Portions of this post were originally published here on the Blind Pig in 2009-when I made leather britches (dried green beans) for the first time. Drying the beans gives them a richer flavor somehow-sort of like drying apples seems to concentrate their flavor. 

Shucky beans

Ever heard of Leather Britches? They’re simply dried green beans. Back in the day before canning jars and pressure cookers were common place dried green beans “leather britches” were the most popular way of preserving green beans for use during the winter months. In some parts of Appalachia the dried beans are called shucky beans.

How to dry green beans

Although I had heard of leather britches my whole life, I had never eaten them until I made my own. The first time I made them I found varying directions on how to dry the beans.

Some suggested breaking the beans before threading them on a string while others said to only string the beans before threading. Miss Cindy said her Grandmother didn’t thread her leather britches at all, she simply placed the green beans on a screen and set it in the sunshine-taking it back inside at night-and repeating the process until they were dry.

Leather britches from appalachia

Whether to put the stringed beans in the sun was another point with varying opinions. Some felt the beans should be in direct sunlight others felt indirect sunlight.

Even how to thread them on the string was up for debate. Certain folks said put the needle through the end of the bean pod but never through a bean. Others said put the need directly through the middle of the bean pod making sure you went through a bean.

After the beans had dried some folks simply left them on the string taking them down as they needed them, others removed the beans once they were dry and stored them in sacks or bags.

So after digesting all of the info what did I do? I pulled the string from the green beans, threaded the needle through the end of the bean, and hung my string of leather britches in indirect sunlight where there was plenty of air flow.

Old time leather britches green beans

In the years since I first made leather britches, I’ve discovered I was making the process way more complicated than it is, I’ve found you can use any of the directions above in any combination and the beans will turn out fine as long as you keep them away from moisture.

Have you ever made leather britches?

Tipper

You Might Also Like

22 Comments

  • Reply
    Marsha King
    July 22, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    When i was growing up, we called them fodder beans. I loved them!

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    August 11, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Have heard of them, but never made or ate them. Wouldn’t mind trying them though if we could ever get any to grow down here in the sandhills.
    I was about to ask how they’re cooked, but then saw the recipe for that is here on your site.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    August 10, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    I love leather britches and I love stringing them up.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    August 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Susan-you have to cook them before you eat them. Go here to see how I cooked mine the first time:https://blindpigandtheacorn.com/blind_pig_the_acorn/2010/02/cooking-leather-britches.html
    Have a great day!
    Tipper
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 7, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Tipper–Beth asked how you cook leather britches. The answer is that you cook them the holy bean way; namely, boil the hell out of them.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Tipper–I’ve made them, seen them made plenty of times when I was a boy, and eaten them. To me, they have a delightfully distinctive flavor.
    Bill B. was right about hanging them from the rafters, but sometimes it was in a barn, not a house. Grandma did a sort of “fast” drying by spreading hers out, much like Ms. Cindy mentions, on screens. The fast part of the equation came from putting the screens atop the tin roof of what was called the cannery. It was a building just out the back door of their house which, I suspect, had once been a place to keep diary products cool. Anyway, the heat reflecting off the tin would dry them in a hurry. Grandma would take them in in late afternoon each day and put them out the next morning, and of course she had to be alert for any rain. On the plus side of things, they dried in just a few days.
    Momma just strung and hung hers, and I don’t remember much dealing with leather britches after I reached my early teens. Don might, and if he does it will mean that they were dried later, because he’s enough younger than me that he wouldn’t recall much of anything from my early teens.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ken
    August 7, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Tipper,
    Leather britches ain’t my favorite
    way to have green beans, but I sure
    had my fill of ’em when I was little. When we’d visit my daddy’s
    sister in the summertime, as you
    went upon the porch to get to the
    front door, it looked like an
    Upsidedown Forest and just a path
    to walk between. My aunt Toots sure
    knew how to cook the old timey way…Ken

  • Reply
    Shirley Owens
    August 7, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Just started this year. I put mine in the dehydrator and they came out fine. Just stuck them in a freezer bag and in the pantry they went. I helped string beans for drying growing up. All we did was string them (in the middle)and hang them in the smoke house to dry until cold weather came when the smoke house was needed for the pork we butchered. Then they would be brought in and put in an old flour sack until we ate them. DELICIOUS! We also dried other foods but in the sun on old screens we had salvaged for reuse. It feels good to “do it yourself”. Quite a bit of pride in the finished product. Have fun
    doing it and they taste better.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 7, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Tipper,
    Another thing…We call a colorful shell bean when it is dry, a “Shelly Bean”. I grew green beans and Shelly Beans. We let the Shelly beans shell turn and dry to a thinner shell, pick and then shell. They were bigger beans…I cooked green beans and Shelly Beans together and later as they begin to get done lay okra pods on top of the beans and let them cook til done. If you can’t get over the slight slimmyness of the okra, this isn’t for you. But, I am here to tell you that a pot of new potatoes cooked whole, a pan of cornbread and okra, shellys and green beans…with a side of onion and sliced tomato will make you want to as they sometimes say “slap and flap” your jaws till dawn!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 7, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Tipper,
    Don’t forget that cooking “leather britches” takes a good bit longer than fresh, canned or frozen green beans. LOL
    A cast iron pot on the back of the cast iron stove a’cookin’ all day starves one to death all day!
    Yep, I’ve done leather britches, but seems like just poppin’ them in the freezer is quicker for me back in my squirrelin’ away days!
    My son has one of those new hydrators, not the old plastic ones, and I thought of drying some and jarrin’ them up!
    I about cryed when I read Gina S, comment about Tear…so sweet!
    Isn’t it amazing how nicknames appear in this language of ours!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….For some reason my Daddy hated “leather britches” he thought they were too tough to eat, when he was a kid! There were so many of them boys workin’ on the farm, they probably didn’t let them cook long enough before they started eatin’ them, said my Mama! LOL

  • Reply
    Sheila S.
    August 7, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Forget fancy casseroles at Thanksgiving. Forget the turkey and ham. Just give me a cake of cornbread, mashed potatoes, and leather britches cooked with a piece of fatback and I am a happy mountain girl. Ahh…the unique flavor. Like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.

  • Reply
    Shirla
    August 7, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Mom always made shuck beans not as a way of preserving, but because she liked the taste. I never heard them called shucky beans (just shuck) or leather britches until later in life. She broke her beans before threading them. I have seen her spread them to dry on a piece of material placed on the roof of the smokehouse.
    I went to visit a cousin who moved here and works at a local nursery. When I introduced myself to the owner, he asked me if I grew shucky beans, too.

  • Reply
    Beth
    August 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

    How about putting them in a dehydrator (for those who have no place to hang them)? Also, how do you cook them after drying?

  • Reply
    dolores
    August 7, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Boy, that was something new for me. I had never heard of ‘leather britches’ nor had I ever tasted dried string beans. Are they chewy; do they have a flavor; do you need to put some seasoning on them?

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    August 7, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Is putting green beans up on a string where the name string beans comes from?

  • Reply
    james gentry
    August 7, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Granny was still making leather britches when she was 90 and hanging them from the ceiling. When dry, she would store them in jars. Mama also made them when I was growing up and called them “Shelly Beans”.

  • Reply
    Susan Cook
    August 7, 2013 at 8:17 am

    So then you eat them out of hand or cook them?

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 7, 2013 at 7:41 am

    One advantage of houses prior to insulated attics was one could hang strings of leather-britches from the rafters and many times leave them there until you were ready to cook them. I still love them even though we seldom make them since most of our green beans find themselves held hostage in Ball or Mason Jars. If my late beans do as well as my early crop I may turn them into leather-britches, thanks for jogging the “Old Gray Matter”.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    August 7, 2013 at 7:36 am

    I’ve never made leather britches, but my Aunt Elizabeth did. She threaded beans and hung them from hooks on a porch. Nothing tastes better on a cold winter day. Her only water source in the kitchen came from a hand pump over her sink and she cooked on a wood stove. Yet, she was an awesome cook. Daddy called her Tear until the day he died. She was older than he and as a small child he could not pronounce her name. In trying to say ‘sister’ all he could manage was ‘tear.’

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 7, 2013 at 7:31 am

    I have made leather britches. I break em and put the needle through the center. For a while I hung on the carport before I discovered the ceiling fan in the living room. No sunlight but you can’t beat the air circulation. My wife thought they clashed with the decor but I won out by telling her the fan looked antique. I was just adding to the look. Lately though I’ve got to likin green beans so much none have made it to the leather britches stage.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 7, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Never made or ate them as far as I know. Looks like a good way to preserve the harvest though

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    August 7, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Yes, and have strung them several times, but I have to admit, I don’t like them :/ For me, they’re in the same category with pickled beans and pickled corn. My husband loves all three!

  • Leave a Reply