One childhood dish which my father, Roy Childers, remembered with special fondness was a dish of
dried green beans called "Leather Britches".
Daddy liked Leather Britches so much that he strung a bunch of pods one summer in the early
1950's and hung them on the back porch to dry even though Mother routinely canned fruits and
vegetables every summer, and we could always buy canned green beans in the A&P grocery store.
Daddy wanted that special rich taste of Leather Britches.
Of course, the Childers family in the cove of Couches Creek had no electricity when Daddy was a
boy in those early decades of the 1900's. The only means of preserving food were drying, curing
with salt, and possibly canning, but I'm not sure that glass jars and lids for home canning were
available or affordable for them in their remote mountain cove. (Does anyone know? If so, please
Here is how I saw him make Leather Britches on the back porch of our old "Bell House" around 1951
The green bean pods were washed to remove any grit and dust. Then the whole pods were
threaded sideways by passing a large needle and cotton thread through the side of each one near
the middle. As the length of the chain grew, the beans spiraled around naturally, making quite a
pretty shape. When there was a string of beans a couple of feet long, it was hung up on the porch in
a dry, sheltered spot, so that it received some sun and plenty of air. On a sunny day, the string
might be moved into the full sun and open air temporarily and then moved back to a sheltered spot
After a few weeks, the green beans would turn brown and leathery, hence the name "Leather
Britches." These dried bean pods could be kept for months and enjoyed in winter when no fresh
food was available. When we wanted to eat them, Mother removed the dried pods from the string,
rinsed off the dust, placed them in a pot with cold water and allowed them to soak overnight. The
next day, she added seasoning (perhaps a chunk of salt pork) and simmered them for an hour or
two, until they softened enough to be palatable. (The timing is a guess as I honestly don't remember
that detail). From my later experience cooking dried beans of other kinds, I would begin to taste the
leather britches after they simmered about an hour. The texture should be moist and slightly chewy
(but not crunchy) and the taste good, rich and almost meaty, quite different from that of fresh green
beans. (I do remember the taste.) Add salt if needed.
Now I think I've talked myself into making some this summer when the farmers' market has good
green beans and the weather will permit open-air drying.
If you have a real tried and true recipe, please send it to me, and I will replace this guesswork with
your more dependable account.
23 March, 2006