Appalachian Food

Growing Green Beans in Southern Appalachia

bucket full of greenbeans

The Deer Hunter and I have been knee deep in green beans 🙂

Green beans play a huge role in the food scene of Appalachia. Most folks have their favorite go to varieties which they plant year after year. Often families save the seed and grow the same green bean their great great grandparents grew, which is especially cool if you ask me.

When I was growing up the choice bean for Pap and Granny’s garden were white half-runners.

White half-runners are beans that have runners which grow from between three and ten feet, and sometimes they grow to even greater lengths. Giving white half-runners something to climb on is a must with the prolific growth of the plants. Some folks create elaborate trellis systems for the beans. Others stretch a combination of wire and string along the row for the beans to climb on. White half-runners are very popular throughout the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. You can follow this link to see how Pap strung his green beans, we do ours the same way.

The Deer Hunter and I grow a combination of white-half runners and greasy back beans.

Greasy back green beans are also a climbing bean and although they typically don’t reach the growth span of white half-runners they do need something to grow on. The unusual name of the bean comes from the shiny sheen found on the outer layer of the green bean.

Both varieties of green beans are typically cooked and preserved in the same manner. Additionally, both varieties of green beans I mentioned need to be strung before eating.

The most common way of cooking green beans in Appalachia is to stew them in a pot of water with seasoning. Most folks use a piece of ham, bacon, or streaked-meat for seasoning along with salt and pepper to taste. A small amount of olive oil or vegetable oil can be used in place of meat. Beans are slow simmered until the desired tenderness is reached.

Green beans can also be steamed, sautéed, or roasted in a variety of ways with or without other vegetables.

We can our excess green beans by using a pressure canner. Green beans can also be frozen for future use.

Yet another way of preserving green beans is to dry them.

Leather britches is the term for dried green beans in my area of Appalachia. They’re called shucky beans in other areas of Appalachia. The method of drying varies from family to family.

Beans are strung with needle and thread and hung in a dry area until the beans themselves are dried. Once the beans are dried some folks remove them from the string and store in bags or even in the freezer. Others leave the green beans dried on the string until they are ready to be cooked.

Cooking leather britches is a bit more trouble than cooking fresh green beans. The dried beans must be washed and then soaked in water until they are reconstituted a bit. The water is discarded, and then the beans are cooked in seasoned water much like fresh green beans, although leather britches take more time to cook. The texture of leather britches is quite different from fresh green beans and they have a distinct flavor as well.


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  • Reply
    August 13, 2019 at 11:53 am

    I wonder what the difference is between half-runners and runner beans…is it how far they run?
    A lot of folks like bush beans but I always grow pole beans so I don’t have to lean down to pick most of them. I’ve grown lots of different types but a few years ago I grew French “filet” type beans, which you pick when the pods are thinner than most beans. They are the only truly “stringless” beans I’ve ever grown, and they are just so tender and tasty – and pretty! I grow both yellow and green and usually steam them whole. I don’t have a pressure canner, but last year I froze many packages of whole beans and ate them right through Spring. I froze the beans whole, but when I was adding some to a stew I found I could easily break them into pieces while they were frozen – real “snap” beans! 🙂

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 12, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    I dearly love green beans and I’ve grown many different varieties over the years. Lately I’ve been growing Pink Tips and Greasy beans. I have canned 90 quarts so far. I love to eat them with mashed potatoes and cornbread. Strange as it seems I like every part of growing beans from the planting, hoeing, harvesting, to the stringing. I don’t love the actual work of canning so much, but I am always so happy to see the rows of quart jars lining my shelves. I also love to grow yellow-eye and October beans. Sadly, it’s getting harder each year for me to do my gardening, but I keep trying.

  • Reply
    August 12, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    I grew Blue Ribbon Stick beans as an FFA project more than 65 years ago. I put up 8 Foot “teepees” for them to climb. The first picking was to be sold to a local grocer for $14 per bushel. Dad insisted on giving them to our pastor. “The first fruits belong to the LORD and the pastor is His local representative.” he said. At the end of the season they sold for $2 a bushel. I thought the pastor could have eaten $2 beans as well as he could have eaten $14 beans.

  • Reply
    Cheryl A Christensen
    August 12, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    While I don’t grow green beans, one thing I liked about the post was the mention that saving the seeds allows people to have the same green beans their great, great grandparents had. I remember going to the land that my great, great grandparents once lived on. Nothing is there anymore except a pear tree and white roses. My mom and I ate a pear and I saved the seeds. I don’t know if this was their tree or someone who came after but I like to think it was theirs. Thanks for bringing up my memory, my mom is no longer able to travel and the adventures we had together are sweet and treasured..

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 12, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    The only climbing beans we had growing up were the cornfield beans and of course they climbed the corn. Mommy has several varieties in the garden but all of them were bush type beans. She would have us pick them 2 or three times and then one last time when we pulled them up. I liked picking like that. You only had to bend over once to pull the plant then you held it by roots upside down and stripped off everything that looked like a bean. She had another kind of bean already planted and coming up or we would plant one right back in the same row. She got three crops off the same garden. Sometimes four if the weather cooperated.
    I never was much of a green bean eater until I got old. Now I love them. Green beans cooked with bacon grease until a pot likker is formed, a fresh cake of cornbread and some Vidalias or green onions just can’t be beat. A glass of cold buttermilk alongside completes the meal or for the faint of heart sweetmilk.

    PS: You eat the beans out of the pot likker, put in enough cornbread to soak it all up then eat it with a spoon.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 12, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    My family and my wild rabbits, groundhogs and deer prefer Great Northerns as they have smaller beans, growing up we grew Half, Runners, Greasy Backs and “Harvey” Beans (named for my second great uncle where we initially got seed beans). We always strung some of all of them and hung them in the attic until ready to use, I love any green beans if they’re seasoned properly, if we don’t have any salt pork I have found that Beef Bullion (to taste) is a great alternative.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    August 12, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    We grow blue lake pole beans every year. They do not have the strings like other beans. I tried kentucky wonder and greasy beans, but came back to blue lake variety. Just simpler. Snap the ends off and break into the size you want.
    An aunt from Australia put us on to French style beans. They are sliced long ways . A kitchen tool with 3 or 4 blades is made for this. The beans have a distinctive different flavor than snap beans of the same variety.

  • Reply
    August 12, 2019 at 9:39 am

    Some of my favorite memories revolve around green beans. I helped my Dad with gardens, and it was one of my joys helping him with his bean harvest. I always called those dried green beans leather britches, and thought it odd that one county over they called them shucky beans. My Mom often referred to beans as shellies if they were a mix of tender young beans shelled out and snap beans. I never did care for them and preferred either soup beans (usually pintos) or snapped green beans/

    I think I may have mentioned on here before one of my favorites is the October bean. It has brilliant colors in the Fall, and we would scatter them out to dry. They would then be shelled out to once again dry the bean inside. I liked to prepare as my Mom did and freeze them in packs before they completely hardened. She called it freezing them in the “green stage.” They were not green, but were actually a tan color short of drying to what is that rich brown color. They cook up in no time, and have a rich thick soup more so than if completely dried. With the limited cuisine in earlier Appalachia they had to be inventive and had their own bean language. The different tasty dishes they cooked with the simple beans and potatoes are endless.
    Tipper, my family never put up anything for half runners to run on, but would have rows upon rows of half runners which always yielded an abundant harvest. They may have done better if allowed to climb on something, but I dare say we could not have survived the Summer if they were anymore prolific 🙂 We did plant different varieties, and I still plant a mountain half runner.

  • Reply
    August 12, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Sounds like you and the Deer Hunter know the best tasting beans to grow. Those are the two varieties I plant. When my daughter started gardening, she planted Tenderetts. She said her husband stops eating if he finds a string on his beans. In my opinion frozen beans taste more like fresh beans than the canned ones. My friend didn’t get to raise a garden this year. She traveled to W VA to visit family and bought a bushel of White Half Runners on her way back home. She paid a whopping $65. I thought I misunderstood her.
    I copied a design from a seed catalog for my beans to run on. I use PVC pipe with a bicycle rim mounted to the top and twine strung from the rims and secured to skewer sticks by tying or taping. The deer are pleased with my design that keeps the beans at mouth level!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 12, 2019 at 8:32 am

    I didn’t grow any green beans this year or last year either. My brother raises a large garden with what he calls old fashioned half runners. He picks them and brings us several messes at a time. Now if he would only string and cook them first. Not really. I like the way we cook them better. My favorite tasty bean is little greasies, but they aren’t heavy producers. Dad always raised them, half runners, and cornfield beans. Dad was a really good gardener.
    My family called them leather britches but I hear some people call them shucky beans. I like leather britches but like the fiddle tune Leather Britches better.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 12, 2019 at 8:28 am

    I had grown white 1/2 runners for years but every year been frustrated about not having enough good bean poles. This year I just planted Rattlesnake but they also outgrow the poles, just not as badly. I still need a variety with 6-8′ runners. The Rattlesnake have passed their peak and we have canned as many quarts and pints as we want. But they are still blooming and will produce for the table awhile yet. Their bloom is purple, unlike the white of the white 1/2 runners.

    I remember the leather britches my Grandma strung. If they were hung near a wood cook stove they could take on an interesting smoky flavor. As you say, they are distinctly different from other green bean dishes. I still wish Cracker Barrel would have them on the menu but it might well be that not enough people would know what they are for it to work.

  • Reply
    August 12, 2019 at 8:28 am

    I just got done canning 43 quarts of blue lake green beans this weekend. Been getting them for several years from a farmer in Blairsville the day they are picked and they are always excellent. Love not messing with strings. Hope to get another bushel in a few days. Starting on canning pickled beets today. Last month I put up 42 pints of peaches, half of them were spiced with a cinnamon stick and a clove in each jar. The spiced ones are great for cobbler. Next month will be apple pie filling. Any canning involving sugar & sticky I take to the Gilmer County cannery. That place is wonderful! Needless to say, I’m tired!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    August 12, 2019 at 8:01 am

    I planted some running green beans next to our about 8 feet high garden fence and they went all the way up and are falling off the fence!! I can’t remember what kind they are but they are pretty prolific. We have to get a ladder to pick them but that one row gave 7 pints to can in one picking. Our bush beans have not been really good this year. We used to always plant Kentucky Wonder but I got to where i couldn’t stand the strings anymore–I was still picking out strings when I took them up to eat!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 12, 2019 at 7:41 am

    Tip, I’m a fan of green beans, both half runners and greasy cut shorts. When I was a kid it was a curious thing to me that a bean called greasy was, in fact, not greasy at all.
    I don’t eat or preserve many green beans now since I don’t have a garden but I like then none the less!
    I tried drying green beans both on a string whole and broken up and spread put in the sun but found I preferred the home canned ones.
    I can imagine there was a time when folks canned all the green beans they had jars for the dried the remainder as a way of preserving as much food as possible.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 12, 2019 at 6:52 am

    I remembrr helping with shelly beans as a child, my neighbors were from Ga s furing picking time they would head there to pick enough for their family . They brought them back to preserve

  • Reply
    August 12, 2019 at 6:02 am

    Growing up Dad would plant half runners, my Wife’s Dad planted McCaslan poles beans and they could grow long and they were never stringy, and had a good taste so that’s what we always grew.

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