Dry Your String Beans Into “Leather Britches”

This Appalachian method is a unique way to preserve your late summer garden green bean harvest.

While freezing, canning, and even pickling are all effective methods for preserving your abundant green bean yield, did you know you can also air-dry them into “leather britches”? While this time-tested and cost-effective method is relatively unheard of, it’s gaining a new wave of popularity with new gardeners and homesteaders alike. It requires no electricity or fancy kitchen appliances and saves you some much-coveted freezer space. With peak green bean season upon us, why not give this easy technique a try?

What Are “Leather Britches”?

String beans strung together in "leather britches."
String beans hanging for drying into “leather britches.” Photo courtesy of Must Love Herbs via Instagram.

Also known as “fodder beans” or “shuck beans,” (because they were dried “in the shuck,”) drying string beans to “leather britches” was commonly used down South in old Appalachia. Back before canning and modern refrigeration was readily available, drying was the most popular method for preserving produce, helping to stretch harvests through the long winter months. The beans were then cooked up into dishes that became a traditional part of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s meals (we include the recipe, below!).

And that funny name? The beans were called “leather britches” because they look leathery and shriveled when they are done drying.

Drying Green Beans For Later Use

Fresh garden green beans.

Making leather britches the old Appalachian way generally involves stringing them with a needle and thread—similar to stringing popcorn or cranberries for garland—and hanging them to dry. Alternatively, you can simply place your green beans on a screen and set them out in the sunshine, taking them in at night, until they are adequately dried. Resist the temptation to reach for the dehydrator, if you have one—it’s the slow air-drying process that cures the flavor associated with leather britches.

How To Make Leather Britches: Method

Equipment Needed:

  • Sturdy string (kite string or clean, unwaxed dental floss) in 2-3 foot pieces
  • Darning/large sewing needle
  • 2 lbs. of garden string beans

Step 1Choose Your Beans

Use green beans that are tender and ‘snappy’ as they tend to rehydrate better later. Leather britches were originally made from “greasy beans, a family of heirloom green beans with smooth, shiny pods. However, any sturdy, non-fuzzy green bean (termed “greasy beans”) will dry well. A good heirloom variety works best, as they have larger beans and thicker skin.

Step 2—Prepare Your Beans

Rinse and thoroughly dry your string beans. Snap off the stem ends. Leave the other sharp pointed tip intact. You can cut them in half or keep them whole.

Step 4—Stitch Your Britches

Thread the needle with the string and create 2- to 3-foot long ropes; tie a bean to the end as an anchor (the technique is explained in the video, below). Then thread through the middle of each green bean, and slide it down the string. Beans should be spaced slightly apart.

Step 5 —Hang Them To Dry

Hang your string of beans somewhere dry such as an unused room, back porch, a pantry, or even your kitchen. Hanging them in a smokehouse or above a wood stove adds a smoky taste your leather britches. Some people find that hanging strings in a dry, dark, cool place dehydrates them best, while others prefer to hang them in the sun. The most important thing with placement is proper air circulation and low humidity, which can cause spoilage.

How To Tell When They’re Ready. . .

Vegetarian cuisine - Stock photography

Allow beans to dry until they are completely void of moisture—this may take 2 months, or longer, depending on your air circulation and climate. Dried beans will shrink become leathery and brittle. If they rattle when shook, they are probably done!

Don’t let their resemblance to old shoelaces turn you off. The method of slowly dehydrating green beans coaxes out some unexpected flavors. Once you cook them and eat them, you’ll see that the drying process creates a deep flavor and meaty texture.

Storing Your Leather Britches

Once dried, you can unstring your beans and store them in a clean jar or airtight container. Alternatively, you can just toss them with some salt and store them, string and all, in a flour sack, pillowcase, or paper bag. Adding a dried pepper to the sack may help to keep out insects. Store your leather britches in a cool, dry place until ready to eat.

Leather britches should last through the winter, and even longer, making them a healthy addition to your fall and winter pantry.

Cooking Your Leather Britches

Cooked Leather Britches made with yellow string beans. You can also use “greasy” beans.

When you are ready to cook and your leather britches, be sure to give yourself ample time. The beans not only need time to rehydrate and get tender, but the cooking process is slow to achieve the best flavor, to develop a savory potlikker (the broth left behind). But they are well worth the wait! Two pounds of green beans, dried, will serve 4 cooked as a side dish.

“The drying of the beans develops so much umami, it’s mind blowing … The potlikker that comes off these beans tastes like roast beef!”
–Chef Sean Brock

Appalachian Style Leather Britches

Dried green beans (as dried, above)
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 inches square salt bacon, bacon grease, ham hock, or oil for a vegetarian option.

Wash the dried green beans in a colander. Place in a pan with enough water to cover the beans and let stand overnight.

The next day, pour off the water and rinse beans. Place them in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the salt, 3 cups of water, and seasoning meat or oil. Cook over medium heat for roughly three hours. Check for doneness after a couple of hours, adding more water if needed.

After fully cooked, add some salt, pepper, or even a tad of sugar to taste. Leather britches tend to swell up as they cook, so be careful how much you cook up. A little goes a long way! The cooking liquid improves the longer it’s allowed to simmer.

Serve It With Cornbread!

This traditional Appalachian dish is wonderful served alongside some hot cornbread and sliced raw onion.

Our tasty cornbread recipe makes an excellent accompaniment to your leather britches.

Tell Us

Have you ever preserved your string beans with this method, and have you tried leather britches? Tell us in the comments below!

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Natalie LaVolpe

Natalie LaVolpe is a freelance writer and former special education teacher. She is dedicated to healthy living through body and mind. She currently resides on Long Island, New York, with her husband, children, and dog.

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Dottie Davis

My KY and TN relatives dry them on a prepared flat surface in their hot non-insulated attics in the summertime. And sometimes along with their awesome little ” fried apple pies”.

Lisa Souders

Hi, my grandma/mother was from Letcher County Ky, and her dad’s family was from Dingus Gap, Va. I grew up eating half runners in the summer and shuck beans for Thanksgiving and Christmas. If we were lucky sometimes at Easter. My mother got married and moved to Ohio. She had 7 kids and all of us strung beans in the summertime. My mom even recruited our friends when they were over to help us. She usually bought 2-4 bushels of beans each summer. One summer she took us to a local farm to pick our own. Needless to say after one bushel we were done!!! Lol she said it was back breaking and she never complained about the price of beans again. My brother is dying from stage four cancer and doesn’t have much longer to to live. He just recently said he would give anything to have some of Mom’s shuck beans again. I bought a very small bag from the grocery this past weekend and was going to try to test them out in my dehydrater, but now I’m not sure. I read one person say not to, but someone else said that they were great?! Any suggestions? I’d love to surprise my brother with some good old fashioned shuck beans (best I can do without taking two months to dry, due to he doesn’t have that much time left). Thanks in advance for your time and help in this matter.


Lisa, I was raised in Letcher county, ky. I grew up breaking beans and sewing beans for shuck beans too. They are absolutely the best. I’m sorry to hear your brother isn’t well. My mom passed away in December. (It’s hard to even type that) I now live in Ohio and always had a garden up until about 5 years ago. In honor of my mom I’m going back to gardening. I hope you will try the dehydrator. I haven’t ever used this method but it’s worth a try. Oh how I wish I had Leather britches I could mail to you. Best of luck and take care.


We are so happy to hear that you are going back to gardening in honor of your mom. We’re sorry to hear of your loss. Thank you for being a part of our community!


I did this last. year. They were sooo good. Going to do lots more this year.

Joe D Reed

Grew up doing this in East Tennessee


I prefer them to fresh beans- following the soaking I cook some onions , stir fry the beans a tad than add a bit of water, potatoes, bacon slab, polish sausage , salt , something a touch of white wine, cover and simmer for about 1-2 hours , 2 kill for!!!

Susan Higgins

Sounds delish, Marlyse!

Melvin reeves

My grandmother done this they were very good

BoB Underwood

I can never get the strings re-hydrated. I have been using an heirloom variety (pink tip greasy) that were recommended for leather breeches, the taste is out of this world, but the strings are indigestable. How do you get the strings soft again?


You take the string out of the bean (take both ends off the bean to thoroughly destring) before you string through the middle and hang them up to dry. Hope that helps you.

Ann K

I grow stringless beans. The seeds are located in the seed section with the other green beans

Smith Kathy

String the beans when you snap the ends off.

Gary from Ohio

Aint nothin better than corn bread made in iron skilet


Yes!!! Here in East Tennessee, “shuck beans” are still a must have for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners so I still try to dry enough annually for those meals. This year, we’re in the process of drying an entire bushel. In another month, I’ll rehydrate and partially cook in the crockpot and then pressure can along with some new potatoes so they’re ready to heat and eat.
This isn’t a process to rush or you won’t get the full flavor profile. The drying process really does add so much flavor and the you’re spot on with your description of the “meatier” texture.

John D Meador

Yes I was raised in southern west Virginia and as a child helped string up beans to dry into leather britches.

Daleen Weight

Can you cook the leather birches in a pressure cooker like you can ask your other variety of dried beans?
I’ve always soaked my beans over night then cooked on low simmer all day. Then I purchased an InstaPot this summer & have it a whirl. I put pot on saute, couple tbs olive oil, onions, carrots, center, garlic when that was done I added all different lentils, pinto, kidney, black, split pea, field pea,… whatever I had in hand that equaled 3 cups. Threw in 2 small ham hocks, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne then added water 1″ above the beans. Cooked on pressurized manual 40 min & slow release takes another 10-15 min. I was blown away! Beans were soft but firm (smaller ones like peas dissolve which I was hoping for). The brush had that beautiful rich color from the pintos. All the flavors were outstanding a married like leftover spaghetti.
A wonderful dinner made from healthy inexpensive dried lentils took me approx 75 min to table & I only had to wash a cutting board & knife!!
If like to see articles & hear from others on different natural seeing methods they use for all their harden vegetables & fruit. My newest adventure is my medicinal herb garden & tea garden. Nothing like growing dandelion & wild lettuce to get your neighbors scratching their heads 😉


Sounds delicious

Alma Breeze

My parents from West Virginia. My dad would buy bushel of green beans. He got us kids and our friends, gave us all a needle and thread. He called them leather britches. One time He told me to dry them on metal pan on the hood of my car. But he still strings his up.

Pansy Wiggins

Did method many time all ways excellent!just wondering what beans you planted was taught that used only Ky white half runners they are hard to find now days I haven planted in since I moved to Florida pa out 5 yrs ago I sure would love to have a mess to eat Love the arrival

Myrna Hostetler

I grew up in Harlan county Kentucky and my grand
mother would do these every year. They were delicious.


We have made these with greasy beans for the last couple of years. My wife calls them shucky beans. They have a taste that is fantastic… not green bean and not dried bean but with a meaty, umami taste. Saved them for Christmas dinner. Hung the strings in the attic which seemed perfect; dark, hot and dry in late summer. I have a few leftover greasy bean seeds planted this year and hope to do the same. I bet that just about any green bean would turn out good but the greasy beans have more bean than the usual ones.

Tina Pannell

When putting the greasy beans on the string to dry do you still need to pull the strings off of the beans?


Can you please publish a recipe for cooking pinto beans? My mother made the best pinto beans but mine are either swollen up too much and mushy or not cooked enough. Her’s always had a lot of liquid (potlikker maybe?) with the beans to sop your corn bread in. What am I doing wrong?

Susan Higgins

Hi Diantha, did you soak the beans overnight first before cooking? Then change the water and cook them until tender. Drain. Pressure cookers work great.

Diantha Litwer

Hey, Susan — I did pick out the little stones and soak the beans overnight. And I did change the water before cooking them. I don’t have a pressure cooker or crockpot, I just cook them in a big pot on the stove over medium heat. I just don’t know. Maybe my pot is too small or they need to cook at a higher or lower heat.

Susan Higgins

Hmm… let me see if I can find some tricks for you. Stand by!

Susan Higgins

Ok, here’s what I found out: Pinto beans should only be soaked 6-8 hours otherwise they’ll get mushy, and only cook for about an hour on simmer.


They are delicious and you are so right… served with cornbread and onion they are beyond delicious!! My great aunt in Virginia and grandmother in North Carolina would have them when I was home. I have made them also and will make some this fall as the beans are almost ready for picking!


We’re from the mountains of southwest Virginia and have always dried our green beans. We have strung them before but mostly would string and break them, spread them out on a towel or sheet and dry them outside in the sun. I usually use the white half runner beans. We never called them leather britches, we just called them a big pot of dried beans.
The last few years I have dried them in a dehydrator. They taste the same and is much faster.


I am 71 years old and my dear Mother was from Bristol, Va. She got a friend of mine and me all settled in with needles, thread and of course beans. We thought what we were doing was fun “sewing up the beans” LOL. I was pretty young maybe 7 or 8 at the time. and what we were doing wasnt at all work. I vaguely remember her cooking them but I dont remember her cooking the green part only the beans. But as I am sitting here thinking about it it does seem to jog my memory about there being some of the green in what she fixed. If I had some again to eat maybe that would sharpen up the old brain cells better. But thank you all for talking about this and bringing back sweet memories to me.

Donna Boone McLellan

I remember my Grandmother Crouse, in the mountains of NC-Alleghany County, telling me to go to the attic and bring down 3 strings of “leather britches” for supper! The strings of “leather britches” would be hanging from the attic rafters from nails specifically put there to hold each year’s supply of “leather britches.” She would season them with ham hocks which she and Grandpa would have in the smokehouse. We lived on what was raised on the farm: garden, cow, pigs, chickens and sheep. A spring house held old mason jars filled with sausage, vegetables, etc. Only memories remain of a delicious staple that feed us in my childhood!




I’m 82 years old and I helped my mother string up beans many times. These old recipes of preserving food is needed now as more and more people are prepping during troublesome times. Thanks for posting these recipes.


I never dried them but I did salt cure them for several years. I look forward to trying this.

Larry Montgomery

You are in for a real taste treat just remember to cook them slow . My great grandmother used to fix them at least once or twice a month

Emily Jewell Johnston

These are a traditional food in my family. Southern WV’s and Kentuckians will know these as a staple product from start to finish in garden to table. I hope this tradition continues on for generations to come.

Donna Boone McLellan

Enjoyed your comments about “leather britches.” They were certainly a staple in the mountains of NC as well, but I’m sad to say that they are just a fond memory of mine as I have not had them since leaving Alleghany County, NC over 40 years ago when my grandparents died.

Larry Montgomery

I live in southern WV and we have been doing this as long as I can remember an I am 69 years old. My great-grandmother was born in the 1800’s and she used this method until her death. And I might add they are not good they are GREAT.

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