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Leather Britches Recipe

| October 13, 2019 | 22 Comments

Appalachian Leather Britches

Follow our complete, step-by-step, photo illustrated instructions to learn how to make Leather Britches. This is an old Appalachian way of drying green beans for use during the winter months. Printable recipe included.

 

Leather Britches, enjoy!
I dried some green beans for just over a year, then made Leather Britches. It’s an old Appalachian way of drying and preserving summer vegetables to try and make it through a cold hard winter.

 

Leather Britches, slider.

I enjoy learning new things about how the so called “ole timers” use to do stuff. It didn’t matter so much in my younger days, but the older I get, the more interesting stuff like this has become to me.

Take these Leather Britches for example. I read about them in the Foxfire Book, printed in 1972, that featured stories and photos about life in the Appalachia area. It’s filled with great stories about some of the folks that lived there, how they built log cabins, the crafts they made, how they killed hogs for food, and how they preserved and cooked food back in the day. Days without indoor plumbing and running water, and days of cooking by the hearth or on a wood cook stove.

There wasn’t actually much about Leather Britches in the book, but it was enough to make me think, “I can do that,” and that I wanted to give it a try. It only took me a year to complete this simple recipe. Smile.

It appears the name came from the fact that the dried up green beans had the appearance of leather. Don’t guess anyone really knows that for sure. Sounds good to me though.

Folks back then would take greasy beans, or fresh green beans and string them up on thread. The beans were then hung in a dry place, or even under the porch of the house to dry out. They kept them out of the sunshine, and hopefully the bugs would leave them alone, long enough for them to dry to preserve them.

This was the way they stored beans from the summer harvest to be used during the hard, cold winter months. Times were tough in those areas. It was just a basic way of survival for them.

When dry, they would put the beans, string and all, in a paper sack, maybe a jar, and close them up until they were ready to cook them. Then, the beans would be washed and soaked overnight to re-hydrate them for cooking.

It often took about all morning to cook the beans so they would be tender enough to eat. Fatback, side meat, or maybe a ham hock would be used to season the beans. And, they say the beans fixed this way had a much deeper flavor than just fresh green beans.

With all that in my head, I started the process. It wasn’t intentional, but I ended up leaving my beans out to dry for over a year before cooking them. How did they turn out? Follow along and let’s see, shall we?

Ready to give some Leather Britches a try? Alright then, let’s head on out to the kitchen, and… Let’s Get Cooking!

 

Leather Britches, you'll need these ingredients.
Leather Britches Recipe – You’ll need these ingredients.

I started this recipe with about a pound and a half of fresh green beans. You can certainly prepare more if you desire. I just wanted to test out the process to enjoy the experience.

 

Leather Britches, beans on a string.
Beans on a string is what they should be called. Smile. I took this photo on September 01, 2018. Each string is about two feet long.

I didn’t take any photos of the process at the time, but here is what you need to do.

Wash your green beans and then let them dry or pat them good and dry with paper towels. Thread a large needle with some strong white thread and you’re ready to begin. The stem end of the bean needs to be snapped off. You can leave the pointed end on. You can either use the whole bean, or do like I did, and snap the beans into one or two smaller sections.

Take the needle and run it though the middle of a section of the bean, being careful to not puncture the actual bean inside, but trying to insert the needle between the beans. You’re going in the side of the bean and not the long way down the middle.

When you put the first bean on the string, wrap the thread around that bean and tie a knot in it to hold the bean on the thread securely. Then, one at a time, thread the needle through each bean and slide it down to the next one. Repeat the process until you have a string filled with beans. Tie a knot around the last bean, just like you did with the first bean.

Hang the beans in a dry, damp free closet or storage area and let them dry out completely.

After a month or two, when the beans are fully dried out, place the beans in a paper bag for storage until ready to use.

 

Leather Britches, one year later.
One year later.

This is how the same beans looked after letting them hang in a closet for just over a year. I took them out on October 03, 2019 – a total of 398 days later, or 1 year, 1 month, 3 days.

As you can see, they are pretty well dried out. Smile.

 

Leather Britches, closeup.
And here is a close up of how the dried green beans now look.

 

Leather Britches, removed from string.
This is all of the beans after I pulled them off of the strings. Most of them slid off pretty easily, but some seemed to be stuck to the string, but I broke them and pulled them off.

All in all, this was just a few more than I could hold in one big handful.

 

Leather Britches, rinse well.
Rinse the beans really good under cold running water.

I placed the dried beans in a colander and turned on the cold water. I tossed them around and rinsed them really good to remove any dirt and dust that had accumulated on them.

 

Leather Britches, soak overnight.
Cover with cold water and let soak overnight.

I placed the beans in a bowl and added more than enough water to cover them. Then, I just let them set out on the counter for a good 24 hours. This is to re-hydrate the beans as much as possible.

 

Leather Britches, ready to cook.
Next day, I placed the beans and the water in a stock pot to cook them.

 

Leather Britches, fatback.
Fatback for seasoning the beans.

I was eager to share this with you. This is a piece of fatback that my auction friend Joyce shared with me a few months back. Her nephew had killed hogs and salted and prepared this himself.

You just don’t find big pieces of fatback like this in stores these days, or at least I haven’t been able too.

Mama always bought fatback from our local store in big hunks like this. Needless to say, it came from a nice, fat hog. Smile.

 

Leather Britches, sliced fatback.
This is about 1/3rd of the block from the photo above. Mama would often have used a chunk this big in cooking her vegetables, but she was cooking more at a time than what few dried beans I had here.

I remember she would cut that whole long strip into sections like I have above. She sliced the fat part, right down to the skin part, but not through the skin. This went in the pot with the vegetables instead of a ham hock or side meat.

 

Leather Britches, in the pot.
I added the piece of sliced fatback into the pot of beans. As you might be able to see, the soaked beans had plumped up a good bit and had regained a lot of their dark green color. Let’s put them on the stove top.

 

Leather Britches, cooked.
Cooked and ready.

I put the beans on a low simmer and covered the pot. I ended up cooking them for 2-1/2 hours before they became as soft as I wanted them. After about two hours, they were still a bit tough and crunchy, so I let them cook awhile longer.

At the end, I did add some salt, black pepper, and a tad of sugar to taste. Mama always added a pinch of sugar to about all of her vegetables. Smile.

 

Leather Britches, enjoy.
Enjoy!

And there you have it – Appalachian style Leather Britches.

How did they taste you ask?  Well, they did seem to have a bit deeper and more intense flavor, but not a great deal I thought. A ham hock might have added a bit more flavor, but this way, the actual taste of the bean could shine through more. They did get fairly tender after 2-1/2 hours. If I had cooked them longer, I would have had to add more water and I didn’t want to do that.

You don’t have to let them hang and dry for a year. You could just let them go for a couple of months instead if you want to try it out. I find it interesting and fun to explore these old ways of cooking. I hope you will too.

 

Print
Leather Britches, printbox.

Leather Britches Recipe

  • Author: Steve Gordon
  • Prep Time: 24 hours
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 26 hours
  • Category: Side Dishes
  • Method: Stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Southern, Appalachian

Description

We went back to the old days of Appalachia to explore some of the early ways that folks prepared vegetables for winter storage. Dried beans have a bit more intense flavor than fresh. Many a Grandma prepared her beans the same way.


Scale

Ingredients

12 pounds of fresh Green Beans
Fatback, or Ham Hock for seasoning
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste
Dash of sugar if desired.


Instructions

Wash fresh green beans under cold running water.
Let beans air dry, or pat dry with paper towels.
Thread a large needle with clean white thread.
Remove the stem end from each bean, pointy end is okay.
Snap beans in half or longer beans into thirds.
Carefully thread one bean onto the thread.
Tie a knot around the first bean to secure it.
Continue to thread the needle through each bean.
Do not puncture the actual bean inside, it might cause the bean to rot.
Tie a knot around the final bean on the thread to secure it.
Hang the strings of beans in a dry, damp free area to let dry.
A storage closet, or pantry works well.
Let the beans hang and dry for two months or longer.
Dried beans can be placed, still on strings, in a paper bag when dry.
Close the end of the bag to keep out insects until ready to prepare beans.
When ready to cook, slide the beans off of the thread.
Place dried beans in a colander and rinse well.
Place rinsed beans in a large bowl and cover with water.
Let beans soak for 24 hours.
Place soaked beans and water in a sauce pot.
Add seasoning meat as desired. Fatback or ham hocks work great.
Place pot on stove and bring to a low simmer.
Simmer beans until done. About 2-3 hours.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add a dash of sugar if desired.
Remove from heat when done.
Enjoy!


Keywords: Appalachian, leather britches, dried green beans, home dried vegetables, preserving,

 

Your Comments:

Have you ever even heard of Leather Britches? Ever tried them? Ever made them yourself?

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Be Blessed!!!
Steve

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You might also like: Skillet Cornbread Recipe

Or, maybe this one?  Hot Water Cornbread

How about this one?  Mama’s Buttermilk Biscuits

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Category: Side Dishes

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Award Winning Food Preservationist, Fisherman, Online Contributor to Our State Magazine Newsletter.

Comments (22)

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  1. Rick says:

    I had a friend from W.V. who talked about doing this when he was a kid. We where in the army together talked about what we did as kids ( I’m from Illinois) at home. Great guy talked and visited him a lot. He passed last year( agent orange) it sure brought back good memories when i read the article.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Rick, I’m truly sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I also have a friend that was affected by Agent Orange. I’m happy we could bring back some good memories for you though. Thank you, and your friend, for your service to our county. We greatly appreciate it. Thank you also for your visit and for sharing your story. I do hope you will stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  2. Betty Goodman says:

    I have eaten beans dried and cooked like this at my friends house in Harlan, KY. We don’t see each other much any more but I remember her beans hanging around her front porch drying during the summer when we visited. Glad your sister in law has improved. Sent prayers her way and for you. Hope both of you heal at Gods speed. Enjoy your newsletter.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Betty, Thank you for sharing your memories of the dried beans with us. As I’ve mentioned before, my family would dry peas, but I have no memory of them ever drying green beans this way. I’m glad you’ve had the chance to try them. Thank you for your prayers for the family. It’s greatly appreciated. I also want to say Thank You for being a subscriber to the Newsletter and for your support for our recipes. I do hope you’ll stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  3. I read the Foxfire books years ago when they were first published. I also read The Mother Earth News. At the time I was living on a ranch in South Dakota and depended on my garden for food for 9 months. I canned and dried our food all Summer. The leather beans were always tasty and I often added some dried peas to the mixture and cooked them all day on the back of the stove. Most days I would serve them with rice and cornbread so that we had a complete protein. Today I’m a retired Nurse Practitioner, but will never forget the hard scrabble living from back then.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Linda, Thank you for sharing your memories of the dried green beans with us. I can only imagine what life on that ranch must have been like. But, hopefully it has given you lots of great memories. Did you just leave the beans hanging and drying until needed, or did you dry them and bag or jar them until ready to cook. I never took these down, but they still turned out rather tasty I thought. Thank you again for your support of our recipes. I really do appreciate your visit and hope you’ll continue to visit with us often. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  4. Kathleen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this old timey recipe! I’ve seen folks doing this at historical reenactments but never tried it myself. I guess it’s harder with high humidity in the Deep South.
    I still can green beans from my garden & think they taste better that way than fresh, especially if they sit on the back of the stove all day with a ham hock or just a little bacon grease. I bet Leather Britches have a similar deep flavor.
    (I put a pinch of sugar in my vegetables, too.)
    God bless!

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Kathleen, Thank you for sharing your comments. Keep up the great work of home canning your green beans. I like to cook with ham hocks and bacon grease as well, and got to have a pinch of sugar. Smile. Thank you for your visit today. I hope you’ll continue to visit with us often. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  5. Clara says:

    I’ve heard of leather britches all my life. Usually dry them on the picnic table and bring them inside during the night. Takes several days to dry. After their dried place in freezer bags,they will keep several years. Also dry apples the same way.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Clara, Thank you for sharing your comments. My parents use to dry peas, but I don’t have any memory of them drying green beans. This was new to me. And, we did dry some apples as well. Thank you for your visit today and for all of your support. I do hope you’ll stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  6. Janet says:

    My Grandmother used to make leather brirches. She had a very.large family and did a lot of canning and preserving. The family raised a garden and had fruit trees. The children picked blackberries and she made jam At the end of the garden season, she would take the.last of the vegetables and make chowchow. She was very frugal, had to be with her large family.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Janet, We can learn so much from our Grandparents way of doing things. They all had to be frugal in those times and did what they could with what they had. I find it interesting to look back and learn about such. I appreciate you sharing your comments. I hope you might give the recipe a try one day. Smile. Thank you for your support and be sure to stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  7. Kathryn Ransom says:

    This sounds a lot like what they do to Chilis (Peppers) in Antonito, Colorado. I worked as a nurse in Colorado years ago and this is some of what you would see in parts of the state. If you don’t know about the “Chilli Line” train … it is an interesting story. The name came from the custom of the locals in New Mexico, Colorado and other neighboring states of hanging long clusters of colorful drying red chiles outdoors, on the adobe buildings in the countryside as a way of preserving them. BTW Steve, I have some “Streak of Lean” that I purchased at a local grocery store (Food Lion) … it has a lot of fat on it if that is of any interest if you cannot find “fatback”. I just made beans in my crockpot with a big hunk of it !! Delicious !! “Smile” ..

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Kathryn, I remember my Grandmother had strings of red hot peppers hanging up to dry in her kitchen. Don’t know what she used them all for, probably more as just a decoration than anything. Never heard of the Chili Line train though. Thank you for sharing your story. I have a place just a mile or two down the road that sells fresh produce throughout the year. They have a box with a screen front on it where they keep a big piece of side meat in. They will cut off whatever size piece you need when you order it. We still have fatback locally, but its never in pieces the size of what I pictured here. Usually just the skin with a little bit of fat attached. It’s still good for seasoning, but mostly for frying up nice and crisp. Smile. Thank you for sharing your comments. I appreciate all of your visits and your support. I do hope you’ll stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  8. Cheryl Ann says:

    Too funny! I prepared Ham, green beans and new potatoes for dinner just yesterday! Will have a repeat performance tonight via leftovers. My Family was originally from the Ozarks-so this kind of cooking brings back great memories! My Grandmother grew her own green beans, but they were unlike any I have ever come across- They looked in every way like your traditional long bean except the inner seeds were purple and when cooked the bean itself took on a beautiful deep green and the interior seeds remained purple-They were far superior to anything else I have ever eaten since leaving home. In fact, for years I avoided green beans altogether-they just weren’t as good. I am so happy your relative is better! Yes, I joined your prayer for her, but I had a rather strange thing happen on the Sunday night Before your newsletter-I was awakened in the middle of the night with the overwhelming need to ‘pray for Steve Gordan’s Sister in Law- which I immediately did. I say strange because something like this has Never happened for me before-as you said-there Must be reason as yet unseen. I have learned over the course of years that reasons matter little. I am glad her outcome has been a good one and pray she is well on her way! Thank You for sharing!

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Cheryl Ann, Thank you for sharing your comments. I wonder what type of bean your Grandmother had? Maybe some of our readers can help us find out. Perhaps it was some variety of what they call Greasy Beans. Thank you for your prayers on behalf of my sister-in-law. The night you mention was the night we almost lost her. I’m glad God brought her to your attention that night. We’ll never understand His ways, but we are grateful he has allowed her to improve and no longer in Intensive Care. Thank you for your continued prayers on her behalf. I’m thankful you read the Newsletter. I will always be grateful for your support. Thank you for your visit today, do be sure to stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  9. Priscilla says:

    Some of my folks around Canton NC, where I grew up, still make leather britches. When we have a family reunion someone will usually bring a big pot of them. Yummy! As a child I remember green beans drying on the porch, apple slices drying on bed sheets, my grandfather’s cured ham and fatback, canning vegetables, pickling beets and cucumbers. You make me remember so many good things. Thank you for the great recipes and the time you put in the newsletter. I look forward to Monday’s. Prayers for your sister-in-law.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Priscilla, Thank you for sharing your comments. I’m glad to hear folks are still carrying on this tradition. Sounds like we grew up under similar conditions what with ll that drying and canning of vegetables and fruits. Young folks these days have no idea of any such stuff. I’m glad we can bring back some memories for you and to hopefully keep some of this stuff going. Just wish I had been as interested in my younger days. Smile. Thank you for your prayers for my sister-in-law. That’s greatly appreciated. Thank you for being a subscriber to the Newsletter and for all of your support. I will always be grateful and thankful. Please stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  10. Paula Harris says:

    May have to try this. Will let you know in about a year (smile) after they dry how I like the recipe. hehe. Also, prayers for healing for you s-i-l sent up. God is good.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Paula, Guess I hadn’t considered it would take someone else a year to be able to try the recipe and rate it. What was I thinking? Smile. You don’t have to let them dry quite that long. If you do try them though, I’ll be eager to see how they turn out for you. Thank you for your prayers on behalf of my sister-in-law. Our family greatly appreciates it. I’m thankful you subscribe to the Newsletter and thankful for your support. Be sure to visit with us again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  11. My family members are from there. But they called them shuck beans When we can drive wn from Chicago my aunt would make them and I loved them. Of course to me was a little like straw but were delicious. I know I have plenty cousins there and they do still make these. But never heard of the name you call them. Eastern Kentucky has so much to offer and their food is another slice of the pie lol. Thanks. Maybe I will get brave enough to try myself.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Lois, I had also read they were sometimes called shuck beans, but I liked the name Leather Britches. The spelling is also sometimes Breeches instead of Britches, from what I’ve also read. I’m being surprised to learn that folks still do them this way. Thank you for sharing your comments with us. I do appreciate your visits and your support. I hope you’ll stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

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