How to make umami-rich Leather Britches, or Appalachian Shuck Beans, a mountain tradition
About this recipe
You can look for leather britches at farmers' markets, or make your own by drying beans — not green beans, but beans still in the pod. Just make sure to remove the strings before drying.
Reprinted from Victuals. Copyright © 2016 by Ronni Lundy. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.
4 cups dried shuck beans, or leather britches
2 ounces seasoning meat, such as salt pork or ham hock
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra if needed
If the beans are still on the thread, cut the knots at both ends and slide them off, discarding the thread.
Break the whole beans into smaller pieces, and as you do, pull off any strings you may have missed when they were fresh. Place the beans in a colander and rinse them lightly to rid them of any dust that may have settled while drying. Transfer the beans to a large pot and add 2 quarts of water (if you're cooking more beans, just press them down with your hand and make sure there's enough water to cover them by an inch).
Place the salt pork or other seasoning meat in the pot. Bring the water to a rapid boil, then turn the heat down to a lively simmer and cover the pot. You want there to be bubbles among the beans, but not to let the water bubble hard enough to rattle the lid. Cook for 3 hours, checking the water level often and adding boiling water if the level falls below the beans. Remember that the beans will be buoyant for some time, so use a large spoon or spatula to press down to see what the actual water level is. Be careful not to let the pot boil dry!
After 3 hours, test a bean (the actual bean) to see if it breaks open easily and is tender inside. The skin may be a little tough, but the inner part of the bean should be soft, not chalky. If not quite there, cover and cook a little longer, testing every 10 to 15 minutes. When a bean tests ready, add 1 teaspoon of salt, turn the heat up to a lively boil, and partially cover the pot. Cook for an additional 30 minutes at a lively boil. During this time, you are letting the beans finish tenderizing and also reducing the amount of liquid in the pot. You want the cooking water to evaporate enough so that the beans are just starting to come out of the liquid but are not stranded and dry on top.
Test another bean and this time you are looking for a fully creamy interior. The pieces of the pods will be translucent and feel like silk. If you think the beans need to cook longer, lower the heat back to a lively simmer and continue cooking and testing until they are done. Then remove from the heat, fully cover the pot, and let rest for 20 minutes.
Taste the beans and add more salt, if needed. The amount of salt will vary depending on how salty the seasoning meat is. Remove the salt pork and serve.