|Top: freshly strung beans Bottom: dried beans Photo courtesy of jamielaval.com|
There are two ways to make leather britches. The traditional method (as shown in the photo above) and the updated method I used both start out with topping and tailing the beans. In addition to that I snapped the beans into 2" lengths. For the traditional beans there is no need to snap. Using a large-eyed needle and heavy string like kite string, thread the beans onto the string, piercing them through their circumference. String enough beans for one meal on each length.
The next step is the same for both methods. Fill a pot with a steamer insert with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. If you don't have a steamer pot you can rig one up using a pot, a colander or sieve, and foil to cover the pot. Fill the sink with ice water. Steam (don't submerge) the snapped beans and the strung beans, string and all if you're doing the traditional method, in batches for 2 minutes. Start timing when the water has returned to a boil.
Immediately plunge the beans into cold water to stop the cooking.
As soon as the beans are cool, drain them thoroughly and spread them out on paper towels to blot as dry as possible.
Here's where the methods diverge again. Using the dehydrator (or your oven set on it's lowest temp) spread the green beans out on the racks and dehydrate at 135F for 8-12 hours.
This is what they'll look like when done.
For the traditional method, hang the strings of beans in a shaded airy place to shrivel and dry. Once the initial moisture from the blanching process is completely gone, cover the strings with cheesecloth to keep insects off and protect from dust. If you hang your beans outside remember to bring them in at dusk to prevent dew formation. When the beans are completely shriveled and dry you can store them as is or store them on their strings in air tight jars. In either case, rinse these well before using to remove any accumulated dust.
2 cups dried green beans
A ham bone or ham hocks, a slice of fat back or salt pork, or bacon drippings
1 chopped onion
small, new, or fingerling potatoes (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped or 3 teaspoons dried winter savory (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Place the dried beans in a large pot and add water until the beans are just covered. Soak for 2 hours.
Place the pot with the beans and their liquid on the stove and add the meat, fat back, or drippings, onion, and winter savory if using. Bring to a rolling boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer that barely bubbles for 3 hours. Taste for salt and pepper at this point and season as desired. (You can prepare the beans up to this point the night before serving and then put them in a crock pot on low before you leave for work in the morning.) Stir occasionally and add a little water if necessary during the cook time. If using potatoes add them about 30 to 45 minutes before the end of cooking. Taste for tenderness towards the end. The beans are ready when they, the potatoes, and any meat you used are tender. Sometimes instead of potatoes I like to finish the dish with light fluffy steamed dumplings that sit on top of the beans and meat to cook.
Leather britches have an intensely beany, nutty flavor that's enhanced by bits of smokey ham and onion. Be sure to serve it with plenty of the pot liquor and a hearty slice of warm cornbread.