Pine Mountain Settlement School
BY Topic: FOOD WAYS
Bean-stringing is an elegant art. The correct flick of the wrist, the correct position of the bean, the freshness of the vegetable and the good company that goes along with a good bean-stringing are all important to an education on bean-stringers. The late summer activity of putting up the bean crop is a ritual still repeated in many households in Appalachia. Aunt Bets bean, Goose beans, Kentucky Half-Runners, no matter the name, beans were and are a staple of the diet for many families in the region.
Stringing generally means taking the thin tough string that peels away from the bean when broken and discarding it. After the tough string is discarded the beans break easily into small sections that may then be canned, or, today, frozen. If prepared correctly, both canned beans and fresh stringed beans can be one of the most delicious and nutritious foods on the table.
But stringing also can mean the stringing of long whole mature beans that, if allowed to dry in long threaded rows, can be preserved over the course of the year. Often called “Shucky Beans” or “Leather Britches” for their tough leathery skins, these mature beans can be resurrected by adding them to boiling water, a little fat-back and salt and waiting a bit for them to tenderize. In early homes in the Pine Mountain valley and in surrounding valleys, the strings of Leather Britches could be seen hanging next to warm fireplaces or on a well-ventilated wire on the porch. Keeping the beans from direct sunlight, from too much moisture and from the many insects that also enjoyed a good bean meal was a full year-round job.
Stringing the Shucky or Leather Britches beans only required a long, strong thread and a sturdy needle and good conversation on the porch as the long strands took shape. Monitoring and curing the beans correctly assured that the bean would cook up well and retain its flavors.
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