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Leather britches… now that's good eatin'

By Virginia Manuel
Freelance writer

When my mother said, ” I'm going to cook up some Leather Britches today,” we knew we were in for a treat. Basically they were dried green beans reconstituted, cooked and seasoned and were they good! We called them Leather Britches or Shucky Beans. I have also heard them called Fodder Beans.
We would begin the process in the summer when we had an abundance of beans by preparing some of them for drying to eat during the winter. It saved on the amount of jars we used for canning. Glass jars were in short supply around our house so drying was another way to preserve the beans without them going to waste.
We would pick, string and break the beans and place them on a screen that was hung over the cookstove. The heat from the wood fire would dry the beans. We usually left them for about a week or ten days until they were shriveled up, brittle and a kind of light tan color and completely dry. Then we gathered them up and put them in a white sack and hung it behind the kitchen door. Sometimes we would throw an old sheet up on the roof of the house and dry them in the sun for a few days.
Another way we saved them was to leave them whole and string them on a string. We used a darning needle and a double piece of thread about two feet long for stringing. To begin stringing we would poke the needle through the first bean then wrap the thread around it and tie it in a knot. All the other beans would follow by just poking the needle through the bean and leave the ends dangling. The strings of beans would then be hung out in the sun to dry during the day for a few days; then it was behind the door on a wire.
My grandma didn't like to put them on the string because she didn't like the size of the whole beans in the pot.
In the winter we would take some of the dried beans and soak them overnight, then rinse them with clean water and put them in a pot with about three or four cups of water, salt and pepper, and a little side meat or salt pork or maybe a ham bone and cook them up.
You had to be careful about how many you cooked because they tend to swell up and what looks to be a couple hands full would make a whole pot. Also you need to cook them pretty slow so they had plenty of time to plump up and get soft. It usually takes around two or three hours at a fast simmer. Put those on the table with a big pone of cornbread and a few slices of onion and you will be so busy eatin' you will forget how cold it is outside.
Now, if this makes you hungry, wait 'til I tell you about “pickled beans.”