A few years ago, I had the pleasure of discussing heirloom cooking methods with a few chefs whom I hold in high regard. One of these methods intrigued me simply because of the name... Leather Britches.
Leather Britches are beans that have been left in the shell to dry. Once they are dry, the beans are placed in a jar until ready to use or cooked immediately. This process is an old Appalachian method of preserving food. For best results, use beans like greasy grits, Kentucky wonder or, in our case, rattlesnake beans.
The most important thing when picking the type of beans you will use is to get a good heirloom variety with great flavor. Like with drying anything, the flavors are going to concentrate. So, if you start off with a bean that isn't that good, the finished product probably won't be either.
The next step is time-consuming if you go at it alone. However, it's also a process that generations to come need to experience! Grab your kids or grandkids, and start shelling.
Even though it took a while, I'll always remember shucking corn with my grandmother and holding a sheet between my legs to shell peas. After washing your beans, begin to string them by snapping each end off and retrieving as much of the bean's string as possible.
Next, you will need a needle and thread. I was a little concerned about the thread I had supporting the weight of the beans, so I opted for 4-pound test fishing line. I strung enough beans on each string to form a 2-3 foot chain. The line should be twisted in alternating directions for even drying.
At this time you want to find a dry area to hang your strings. An ideal location is above your fireplace. The beans pick up wisps of flavorful smoke. This time of year we're not burning too many fires, so we have ours hanging over the chef's counter. Due to the grill, they'll still pick up a good amount of flavorful smoke.
I'm saving our beans for the coldest day winter has in store this year. Then, we will cook them in a pressure cooker with a piece of our delicious, smoked ham.