Life's Lessons
Leather britches
By Gene Crawford


As a boy, here in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains (in north Georgia), my mother used to make leather britches. When we took a Sunday drive in the mid to late summer months of the 1940s and 50s, a common site was seeing most all back porches decorated with strings of green beans in various stages of drying. The beans would be what we called white half-runners, or more commonly, green beans. The beans were hung so they could dry. This method of drying green beans from the garden is called making leather britches.

As the garden green beans dry, they take on a leathery look and texture, and the southern back porch is where britches (pants) were hung up to dry on wash day. People were too proud to hang their britches on the front porch to dry because neighbors and visitors could see them as they entered the house. Another theory as to how these dried beans got their name is way the green beans looked while hanging on the back porch - wrinkled and leathery looking as they dried.

During my youth, there were only four ways of preserving food. We canned it, salted it, pickled it and dried it. At the time, we didn't have refrigeration for freezing our food to preserve it - this came to our home several years later.

We gave the name leather britches to the beans but it was the Cherokee Indians who taught us how to make dried beans. The Cherokee didn't call them leather britches; they called them A-ni-ka-yo-sv-hi-tsu-ya, which was their recipe for dried beans.

It was many years ago but I still remember how my mother made leather britches. First, we harvest our garden green beans before they got too full - while they are still young and the beans [or pods] inside are almost fully mature.

This drying process will work for any variety of green bean that you raise in the garden. Wash and dry the green beans, snap off the tips and string as you normally would. Don't break the green beans up, leave them whole. Cut about a six foot length of the cotton sewing thread, thread your sewing needle, pulling the loose ends evenly together and tying an extra large knot in the end of the thread.

This will give you about a three foot string to work with, but you can make it longer or shorter to meet your needs and the circumstances where the beans were to be hung. Sticking the needle through the middle of each bean. I don't mean down the center of the bean, just through the center, so both ends of the bean are loose. Fasten the first bean by wrapping the string around it and making a knot so it won't pull through. Then go on stringing till your string's full. Fasten the last bean the same as the first one

Our house had three porches but we always hung them on our back porch. The beans will become dry and wrinkled in a few days - my mother took them down when she wanted to prepare them for a meal.

Leather britches were a winter meal at my mother's table. Mom would take several strings (there were nine children in my family) for a large kettle and remove the cotton strings. She would rinse well - let them soak overnight - drain off the water in the morning - add fresh water and then put them on to cook.

When they boil up once, Mom would pour off the first water to be certain they were clean and also to remove any bitter taste and add fresh water again. Then Mom would toss in a ham bone, maybe a strip of beacon and an onion (to keep the beans company) and salt and pepper to taste. She cooked until tender and served hot.

I learned to love my mother's leather britches as a little boy - they were a mighty fine cold weather dish that stuck to my ribs. Today, my sister Johnnie and brother-in-law Myles puts up leather britches and gives us several messes (all true southerners know what a mess is) throughout the year; my wife, Tressie cooks them just like my mother. I am a blessed man!

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Have an Excellent Day!

Gene

May 26, 2010

 


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