Shucky beans provide a tasty example of the ingenuous preservation techniques often cited as one of the hallmarks of Appalachian cooking. These dried green beans are sometimes called “leather britches” for their tan color and coarse texture.
My Granny Laura strung plump green beans at the height of the summer season, but traditionally folks would use those beans that were the less-than-ideal products of a dry or blighted crop. My parents string a bushel of beans each summer and they insist that the most fulsome beans make the best shucky beans.
Below I describe the process for making shucky beans from stringing to cooking. Leather britches are a perfect addition to a fall meal when fresh green beans are hard to find, but there’s really no bad time to eat them. Once they’ve been dried you can keep them around for six months or so before cooking.
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2 ½ pounds green beans (half-runners, turkey craw varieties work best)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Remove the “strings” from the green beans. If you’ve never “strung” green beans before, pinch the tip of each bean where it once connected to the vine and pull the fibrous string that runs down the center of the bean. For most varieties, there is a string on the front and back of each bean, so make sure to remove both but keep the bean intact. Don’t break or snap the beans into segments, however.
Use a standard needle to thread the beans together in two to three foot lengths. Hang the beans in a warm, dry place. Leave the beans to dry until they are brown, crinkled, and rough to the touch. At that time, remove the beans from the thread. Store them in a paper bag until ready to cook. Some folks store the tightly-cinched bag in the freezer.
When ready to cook, break each dried bean into two or three smaller segments, making sure to remove any “strings” missed in the first round. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Allow the beans to soak for approximately 36 hours to rehydrate.
Drain the beans. Transfer to a large stock pot. Add 6 cups of fresh water, oil, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for six hours, checking the beans every hour. Add additional water, one cup at a time, as necessary. The beans will be tender and tan when done.
(Yields 8 servings; Ready in a pretty long time, but they are totally worth it)